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K-State Research and Extension News

Released: Nov. 22, 2016

4-H benefits Kansas youths in measurable, permanent ways
Recent impact study highlights leadership skills, personal confidence.

Two Kansas 4-H members volunteer at the Junction City Animal Shelter in Geary County, during the 2016 48 Hours of 4-H service project.MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Kansas 4-H offers children and teens the chance to learn and hone skills in specific activities such as photography, animal care and culinary arts. But underlying these skills are life lessons that will accompany members through life long after they’ve left the program.

“The success, skills, leadership and citizenship that youth find through the 4-H program follow them into their adult lives,” said Jill Martinson, a 4-H Youth Development agent with K-State Research and Extension’s Dickinson County office. “We have farmers and ranchers who first raised livestock or crops as 4-H projects, a local bakery and bistro owner who found her passion in the 4-H foods project, a former state energy management 4-H project winner who now engineers stage performances for big-name entertainers, a photography project member who is now a graphic designer for a high-end furniture company, as well as hundreds of others who have become successful, community-minded adults because of their involvement in 4-H.”

 “We’ve always known that 4-H makes inroads in helping young people grow into tomorrow’s leaders,” said Barbara Stone, a professor of educational leadership in the Department of 4-H Youth Development at Kansas State University. “But we didn’t know how much. So we conducted a study by involving many of the local extension agents across Kansas.”

 An American youth development organization with global reach, 4-H empowers young people with skills that have lifelong value. With guidance from adult mentors, young people in 4-H learn science, health, citizenship and more through hands-on projects. Kansas 4-H is delivered by K-State Research and Extension. In Kansas, more than 86,000 young people are involved in 4-H activities. About 2,600 youths between the ages of 8 and 18 were surveyed, representing both rural and urban 4-H members.

 Survey questions focused on five basic skill sets: making responsible decisions, developing connections with others, citizenship skills, leadership and communication.

 “Ninety-five percent of the young people reported being very comfortable making their own decisions,” Stone said. “Also, 91 percent said they have a plan for reaching their goals.”

 Connecting with others is a key component to overall well-being, said Stone. Kansas 4-H guides members in developing lasting connections with adults and peers alike.

“When we talk about ‘adults,’ we mean adults other than their parents. These other adults help them to understand and respect the adults in their lives, and they learn to feel comfortable working with adults.”

 It’s the adult volunteers who frequently mentor 4-H members as they grow and learn, especially when it comes to community involvement and citizenship. One example is the statewide weekend of coordinated community service known as 48 Hours of 4-H. Both youths and adults tackle projects such as park cleanup, community gardening and other volunteer efforts.

 “We completed our annual ‘48 Hours of 4-H’ event not long ago,” said Stone. “We want this program to help young people become more informed and engaged in their communities, and this study confirmed the involvement.”

 Gaining skills and self-confidence through community service, as well as a desire to help others, were all reported by well over 90 percent of the survey respondents. Kansas 4-H has often been credited with instilling strong leadership skills in young people, and this impact study marks the first time program leaders have concrete evidence.

Stone said 4-H is known for leadership development but didn’t have the numbers to show it. “In this study, 95 percent of youth reported an increased effort to allow everyone to have a voice,” she said. “Ninety-five percent also said that they treated everyone fairly and equally when they were working with a group.”

 One project that even the youngest 4-H members take on is communication – children as young as age 7 learn to write a letter or give a short talk on a favorite project. Stone said that while it takes a couple of years to gel, 4-H members in their third and subsequent years reported a significant increase in their personal confidence when speaking to the public as a result of these projects.

“That's a wonderful result, but at the same time, it reminds us to keep our young people involved in 4-H — those skills take time to grow, and that means long-term participation in the program,” said Diane Mack, interim department head for Kansas 4-H Youth Development.

 Children and teens that join 4-H can choose from several project areas, including:

  • Woodworking
  • Entomology
  • Foods and Nutrition
  • Geology
  • Photography
  • Animal-based projects such as beef and dairy cattle, poultry, horses, rabbits, and dogs

 As parents look for extracurricular activities for their school-aged children, Stone says anytime during the year is a good time to get involved with the local 4-H club.

“If parents are interested, they should go to www.kansas4-h.org and look up where their available extension office is and look at the opportunities available in 4-H,” Stone said


K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. 

Story by:
Randall Kowalik
K-State Research and Extension

For more information:
Diane Mack can be reached at 785-532-5800