Tobie Blanchard | 2/2/2017 4:14:16 PM
4-H’ers have the opportunity to shape their rganization through youth leadership boards. Approximately 160 4-H’ers serve on these boards and help determine the path Louisiana 4-H will take.
“Serving on a youth leadership board offers a higher level of participation,” said 4-H youth development specialist Leslie Moran. “The youth learn leadership skills, which transfer to what they are doing in their daily life.”
The first youth leadership board in Louisiana was the Executive Board, which was created in 1921. It consists of 4-H’s elected state officers.
Not until the 1990s did the idea for additional boards start to flourish. The first Fashion Board was established in 1990, and the Food and Fitness Board followed in 1995. The Performing Arts Board is the most recent addition – it formed in 2014.
Louisiana 4-H now has seven youth leadership boards: Citizenship; Executive; Fashion; Food and Fitness; Performing Arts; Science, Engineering and Technology (SET); and Shooting Sports.
The boards consist of 20 to 40 4-H’ers who must be at least 13 years old. Board members are elected or selected during 4-H University, which occurs annually in June.
The boards provide an opportunity for 4-H’ers to see the bigger picture, said 4-H regional coordinator Karen Martin.
“They plan camps for other 4-H’ers. They get to teach their peers. You can really see the board members grow as they go through the planning process and plan all the details of camps or educational programs,” Martin said.
Adult volunteers, consisting of parents, retired 4-H agents and college students, work with the boards. When adults serve as partners to the youth, youth gain the support and power that help them achieve both their individual and group goals, Martin said.
While the adult volunteers are crucial, both Moran and Martin said youth are at the helm of the boards.
“We adults think we know what they want or need, but they really know. And this allows them to have a voice in their organization,” Moran said.
Helping youth develop leadership skills is an important outcome of the youth boards. Research conducted on the Louisiana 4-H state youth leadership boards concluded that youth engaging in membership on the boards thought they were able to think independently, mastered some leadership skills and improved their ability to communicate with others, Moran said.
“Youth can develop, enhance and use leadership skills to influence change. That is the real purpose behind the boards,” Moran said.
Boards have activities tailored to their areas of interest. The Food and Fitness Board visits restaurants and learns about health. The Shooting Sports Board hosts shooting events. The Fashion board visits New York.
“They go to the garment and textile district in New York City. When else would these students have these opportunities?” Martin said.
The 4-H’ers often provide programming at local events that have relevance to the subject matter, Moran said. The boards participate in service-learning activities and volunteer at the local level. Also, each board puts on a culminating event, such as the Executive Board organizing the Junior Leadership Conference for 300 of their peers.
Through these leadership boards, youth get connected to a larger context than their immediate circle, and they really take ownership of their 4-H youth development program, which ultimately enhances every youth’s experience in 4-H, Moran said.
Tobie Blanchard is a communications specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications and communications coordinator for the LSU College of Agriculture.
Youth leadership boards give 4-H’ers a voice in shaping their organization. Members of the 4-H Fashion Board help plan a fashion camp for 4-H’ers. They also travel to New York City to visit the textile and garment district. The 2016-2017 board is pictured here. From left, front row, Brielle Brumfield and Shaylee Puls; second row LSU AgCenter 4-H Youth Development department head Janet Fox, Gabrielle Fontenot, Lauren Harrell, Brittany Flynn, LSU AgCenter associate vice president Mark Tassin; third row, 4-H Youth Development instructor Tanya Giroir and Ra’Janae Morris, current chair. Photo by Olivia McClure