When 4-H originated in 1902, the intent was to improve agricultural practices and enhance quality of life for rural American families through youth development. Its success is evident; it remains the oldest and largest youth development organization in the U.S. with an increasing international component. Over 80 countries currently participate in 4-H programs, the majority of which maintain an agrarian and rural quality of life focus in program goals and curricula. Contemporary 4-H programs also convene youth from diverse ethnic, cultural and economic backgrounds through international youth exchange programs.

A unique feature of 4-H worldwide is its reliance upon adult volunteer leaders who teach and guide youth. This study reports the results of an assessment of volunteer leaders’ skills to promote positive youth development among 4-H youth in the U.S. The authors developed survey items to assess seven adult skills that foster positive youth development among youth: physical and psychological safety; appropriate structure for youth development; opportunities for youth to learn about supportive relationships; opportunities for youth to belong; opportunities for youth to learn about positive social norms; opportunities for building life skills; and support for efficacy and mattering.

Study results indicate that parents who participate in 4-H as volunteer leaders tend to rate their skills to work with youth significantly higher than parents who do not volunteer to lead. These results provide important information for Extension 4-H agents in the U.S. and abroad who recruit, screen, educate and manage adult volunteer leaders to promote positive development among 4-H youth.

Keywords: Positive Youth Development, Adult Skills, International 4-H


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