4-H and the Youth Work Institute are working together to provide leadership and innovation in using 4-H youth and adult volunteers to evaluate and assess program quality at the point of service (where youth and adults are engaging together in the program).
As part of a Children, Youth, and Families At Risk (CYFAR) research grant with the University of Arizona, we began studying this model to learn how to build capacity within Minnesota 4-H in engaging youth and adult volunteers to improve program quality in local communities. What we see are changes in how adults practice their work with young people and how youth interact in programs.
Key indicators have been identified to measure this quality at the point of service: Safety, support, interaction, and engagement (of young people).
Nancy Schroeder, Crow Wing County 4-H Shooting Sports/Wildlife Project Development Committee (SS/W PDC) Leader, was a participant in this study. She has been involved in 4-H for six years and leader of the SS/W PDC for three years. Nancy saw the need to change and improve SS/W PDC because without change, she felt participation from adults and youth in the community would be lost. She knew that the participants were very passionate about this project, but they were in need of a different way to run meetings and engage youth. Nancy decided to become a part of this study after addressing her concerns with one of her mentors who just finished the YPQA training with the Youth Work Institute.
"The outcomes from the YPQA are endless and amazing. The youth lead with our support and they know they have a voice. Youth leadership is at its best," Nancy said. After implementing the ideas and tools they learned in the YPQA training, the youth in SS/W PDC are more involved and encouraged to lead. They are involved in key decision-making and are a crucial part of SS/W PDC meetings. The SS/W PDC hosted an open house at Gander Mountain to promote project participation. The youth and adults answered questions about the SS/W PDC and showcased what the SS/W PDC is all about. "Since the event, our numbers have blown open!" said Nancy.
Since the YPQA training, the SS/W PDC continues to grow with almost instant changes in the right direction. Parents, leaders and youth have learned to work together without conflict. Nancy feels they are continuously moving in a positive direction and have climbed out of what had felt like a rut.
The facilitators in the YPQA training serve as a neutral party by observing and providing feedback. "It took some of the obstacles out of the way which made it feel more like a process than finger pointing. It also allowed for some open thinking and brought us together as a team with similar goals," Nancy said.
Nancy explains that this training really stresses the idea that it is important for youth to take on the leadership role with support from the adults in the project. Including youth in decision-making and valuing their input has proven to have positive outcomes in SS/W PDC and has the potential to be very positive for other 4-H projects as well.
"The value of this training was priceless to us. We need to be open minded, reach out for growth and realize that change doesn't mean criticism. We never touch a life so lightly that we do not leave a trace."
Preliminary findings from the Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study