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State 4-H leader looks to past in forging future

Weber says youth program has a history of overcoming big challenges

July 28, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The leader of the Kansas 4-H program said that looking at the organization’s past is one way that it will overcome the challenges it has faced the past several months.

Like so many other groups, Kansas 4-H had to adapt its programs quickly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only recently – July 5, nearly four months since much of the United States first closed down – has the organization been given a green light to resume some in-person activities.

Wade Weber, the state leader for Kansas 4-H, said two showcase events – the county and state fairs – are examples in which youth and families have had to adapt quickly.

“We have a rich history of young people being involved in their community, and learning to work together to be problem solvers, innovative and creative,” Weber said. “We’ve always worked to expand opportunities for young people to belong to their local 4-H program, all the way back to our beginning in 1905.”

Weber cited a familiar quote from the state’s first 4-H leader, Otis Hall, who said: “We're not trying to make farmers out of all these youth. We don't care how many hogs or cabbages they raise; it's the youth we're interested in. We're trying to build self-reliance, good judgment and character. For many, 4-H is a stepping stone for those larger life skills.”

Hall, who created the 4-H Pledge that is recited in every club across the country, led Kansas’ program during stressful times: World War I and the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. Weber said today’s 4-H leaders, volunteers and youth can benefit from his wise words.

“I think it really speaks to us 100 years later about the resiliency they were developing, and how they were trying to develop young people,” he said. “I think it’s something for us to be encouraged by as we think about moving forward.”

Weber said Kansas 4-H members and volunteers can also draw strength from another former leader, Glenn Busset, who helped steer the program through turbulent times in the 1960s and 1970s. Busset believed that empathy and drive are two critical elements when times are tough.

“Empathy is the important central ability to feel as the other person does. Drive is the energy to want to do something,” Busset said. “There must be a delicate balance between empathy and drive. Too much empathy with too little drive will lead to little accomplishment. Conversely, too much drive with too little empathy will often bulldoze and harm others in pursuit of accomplishments in order to fulfill their own ego.”

Weber called Hall’s and Busset’s wisdom “timeless phrases” that are important for today’s 4-H programs. “I think they help to put us in a great position to think about the challenges we have in 2020,” he said. “I think right now is a great time to think about where we want to see ourselves moving, and then help each other along.”

Weber listed three ways that Kansas 4-H can focus on as it moves forward:

  • Be flexible, adaptive and resilient in working with youth, family and volunteers. “Engagement is key; we can’t abandon them.”
  • Be authentic in learning from and serving communities and families who are different from our own experience. Expand the circle of belonging in 4-H.
  • Create a better blend of in-person and distance learning opportunities, which can lead to career and college-ready skills.

“Those are the three things that I think are really key to our future,” Weber said. “A lot has been learned and done, but there is a lot left to learn and accomplish. In reality, this era is ripe for innovation, confidence building, excellence, belonging, and intentionality pursuing our 4-H mission.”


Glenn Busset: Principles for working with youth

Glenn Busset, who led the Kansas 4-H program from 1966 to 1981, proposed three principles for working with youth:

  • Love them. Have kind regard for the ideas and feelings of each youth. They should be able to count on you to be understanding and free from prejudice. Expect that each youth will make their own unique contribution and that contribution is important. By doing this, you affirm that youth belong.
  • Limit them. In 4-H, youth can help set boundaries for the group to function. Youth may not like these boundaries and they should have the opportunity to say so and consider ways of changing them. All of us must learn to function within certain boundaries and to consider changing them if they are not right. Democracy is as much a limiting process as it is a freeing process.
  • Help them achieve. Unless youth have a sense of accomplishment and achievement, feelings of inferiority can develop. They will feel success from their 4-H work when recognized by adults for their progress. Youth development is the most important outcome of the 4-H club program.

At a glance

For many than 100 years, Kansas 4-H members have displayed an ability to adapt to challenging times.


Kansas 4-H Youth Development

Notable quote

“We have a rich history of young people being involved in their community, and learning to work together to be problem solvers, innovative and creative. “We’ve always worked to expand opportunities for young people to belong to their local 4-H program, all the way back to our beginning in 1905.”

-- Wade Weber, state leader, Kansas 4-H Youth Development


Wade Weber

Written by

Pat Melgares


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