Growth, professionalism, goals and passion: together they set the foundation for youth development programs. These development programs are a stepping-stone to the real world and provide youth with many opportunities that others in their age group do not get to experience.
Youth development programs come in many different forms. Two of these programs are 4-H and the National FFA Organization. Each of these organizations targets groups of youth to encourage, mentor and prepare for a successful future.
With a rich family history in both 4-H and FFA, I was excited to join these programs as soon as I met the age requirement. As I look back, I would not be the person I am today without these programs and the mentorship they provided. My mentors and leaders encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, learn from my failures, and try new things. They never led me astray and some of these opportunities proved to be the most valuable risks I have ever taken.
I believe youth development programs lay a foundation for youth that will consistently put them a step above the rest as they progress through their personal and professional lives. These programs challenge youth, make them well-rounded individuals and help them establish future goals.
4-H reaches out to youth ages 5-18 with opportunities to learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through it’s four H’s: head, heart, hands and health.
“4-H addresses the four principle areas of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity,” said Karla Deaver, 4-H youth development specialist. “The long-term goal of 4-H is to develop competent, caring, capable adults who contribute to society.”
The National FFA Organization develops middle and high school students’ potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success. FFA programs operate off the three-circle model that combines classroom instruction, laboratory work, a supervised agriculture experience (SAE) and FFA.
“There are many subject areas that fall within agriculture education,” said Sam Percival, agriculture education instructor and FFA adviser. “Students can identify their interest area and learn more about it.”
A unique opportunity within FFA is that members can participate in career development and leadership development events. These events give students a better understanding of career areas they might be interested in. A few areas include livestock evaluation, meat evaluation, horse evaluation, horticulture, nursery and landscape, agronomy and public speaking.
“Regardless of what occupation or career a student chooses, FFA allows them to develop skills that will help them be successful,” said Percival.
FFA career development events and the SAEs allow students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real-world applications.
“There are many lessons that students learn in the FFA program that are not in a textbook, but are essential to prepare them for life after high school,” said Percival.
My participation in career development events not only guided me to pursue my animal sciences degree, but also taught me valuable lessons such as working with a team, sportsmanship, dedication and time management. These soft skills came as a result of my development of the technical skills required by these events.
The 4-H life skills model outlines skills that will help members adapt and be successful in the environments they live in. Amongst these skills are service learning, conflict resolution, goal setting, keeping records and stress management.
“The knowledge and skills 4-H members gain through their project work, leadership opportunities, judging teams and completing recognition forms each year really help youth practice skills they need to be successful in college and in their careers,” Deaver said. “Many members have indicated these life skills have been greatly enhanced through their 4-H experience.”
Mentorship is an integral part of these development programs. 4-H works to connect youth with volunteers who help members process the outcomes of their exploration and learn from it.
“When a situation does not go as planned and when life lessons are learned, there is always someone to help them think things through and improve for the next time,” said Deaver.
Similarly, FFA fosters a positive growth environment for students through mentorship of their FFA chapter advisers.
“FFA provides a positive growth environment for students by not only supplying facilities that students need for their learning experience, but also advisers who are there to encourage members and provide advice when needed,” said Percival.
Students have the ability to control how much they benefit from youth programs and cater their experiences. A large part of the success of youth programs is that youth get out of the program what they are willing to put in.
“Members can develop their experience in FFA to be as big as they want it to be,” said Percival. “A members level of success really depends on how far they want to go and how much they want out of the program.”