Developing Leaders for Future Generations Through 4-H

The nation’s largest youth development organization, 4-H, celebrated more than 100 years of positive accomplishments for youth, families, volunteers, alumni, and donors during National 4-H Week (October 3rd-9th). In the United States, 4-H programs empower six million young people through 110 land-grant universities and Cooperative Extensions in more than 3,000 local offices, serving every county and parish in the country. The 4-H program offers many benefits for youth, volunteers, and communities, such as building life skills through hands-on learning resulting in increased confidence, resilience, leadership, and compassion while adults provide a positive environment. 

Nebraska 4-H is committed to supporting the youth in our state with hands-on learning. Whether in a school classroom, a cafeteria, a gym, a living room, an outside space, or online, learning can happen anywhere. One program in Dakota County that has a strong collaboration with the South Sioux City Schools is First Lego League (FLL) Robotics. It has been available for the past ten years. Each year, approximately 40 students compete in the experience learning valuable life skills with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math while building, programming, and testing robots with more than 15 coaches and mentors. 

Youth leadership development is essential to help teens learn about giving back to their community. These young people will be leading our country in the near future. Yes, sooner than everyone realizes! As community members, the responsibility falls on everyone to ensure these youth leaders are being provided every opportunity they deserve. “Organizations and communities need to consider youth-adult partnerships (see Ladder of Youth Participation) as they work with youth audiences,” according to Roger Hart. 

How can you tell if youth are positively engaged with caring adults? Here are few ideas to consider from the Community Network for Youth Development:

  • Young people have opportunities to participate in decision-making.
  • Young people have opportunities to develop and practice leadership.
  • Young people experience a sense of belonging.
  • Young people and adults are working together, with both groups sharing equally in the decision-making.

Youth leaders come in a variety of ages, backgrounds, and personalities. While it is a natural instinct to view the most extroverted and boisterous youth as the most influential leaders, that is not always the case. Not all youth have that same personality. Just as with any effective team, it takes a variety of personalities and strengths to make it a success. That is why, when seeking out potential youth leaders, it is important to tap into a variety of personality styles. There is a need for youth leaders that enjoy the behind-the-scenes work just as much as there is for the ones who love to present the ideas. When working with youth, remember to have each stretch their comfort limit. If youth do not feel as comfortable with the planning, make sure they still get the practice. Just be sure to offer more guidance during this process.

Just as important is tapping into a variety of youth leader personalities, it is equally vital to offer a variety of leadership opportunities. Within 4-H, depending on the county, youth have a vast array of experiences awaiting them. Creating a variety of leadership roles will help to ensure each youth feels they have something that might fit them and their family. Youth leaders are extremely effective when there is youth representation on a board. For example, a 4-H Council might have six youth members and six adult members. This allows the youth leaders to feel as though they have an equal say. Teen Leaders or Youth Ambassador Programs in 4-H are unique opportunities for the youth leaders to experience different leadership roles through the 4-H program. Youth can plan their events, elect their own officers, and represent 4-H members in their county. For those youth who are extremely busy, episodic leadership opportunities tend to work better. Youth can serve as Jr. Superintendents during the county fair by assisting the superintendents and helping with the event programming. This requires less time commitment, while still allowing them an opportunity to show leadership.

Nebraska 4-H in Dakota County has established a 4-H Ambassador program for teens to demonstrate their leadership and citizenship skills. The current Dakota County 4-H Ambassador is Brianna Bousquet. She has been a member of the Hubbard Jr. Feeders 4-H Club for the past 11 years. She is an example of a young leader in her club, community, and school. The first year of the 4-H Afterschool program in Emerson, Brianna was there helping younger youth complete their projects. She continues to serve as a teen volunteer and positive role model for younger youth at the monthly events. As a 4-H Ambassador in Dakota County, she started her experience when COVID hit. That didn’t stop Brianna’s passion for becoming a 4-H Ambassador. She has been able to practice her communication skills through making videos about Nebraska agriculture and 4-H promotions. She represents her club on the Dakota County 4-H Council and serves as an officer in her Hubbard Jr. Feeders 4-H Club and the council. Her involvement as the first Dakota County 4-H Ambassador has allowed her to promote a positive 4-H message to youth, families, and stakeholders in the community. 

Youth leaders are a cornerstone to the success of every community. There is a sense of commitment and pride to their community when youth have helped shape its future. When moving forward to help grow the youth leaders in the community, remember to take it slow and grow it effectively. The 4-H program is the nation’s largest positive youth development and youth mentoring organization, empowering six million young people in the U.S. ( Nebraska 4-H grows communities. Nebraska 4-H grows leaders. For more information about the 4-H and Youth Development and leadership opportunities, please contact the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension Office in your local county or visit the website at

By Angela Abts, a 4-H and Youth Development Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension for the past 13 years, and eight years with K-State Research & Extension. She focuses her extension programming on working with youth audiences through school enrichment, afterschool, First Lego League teams, and traditional 4-H clubs in Dakota County and statewide.

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