The essential elements of positive youth development


In 2018, the Jackson County 4-H program engaged 178 approved adult volunteers to carry out programming for 768 4-H members throughout Jackson County.

4-H volunteers serve in a variety of capacities, including: 4-H club leaders, special committee members, 4-H Council volunteers, SPARK Club facilitators, fair volunteers, livestock superintendents, etc. 4-H volunteers serve our program in a variety of ways and that includes making decisions and supporting each child to reach his or her full potential.

In 4-H, we utilize eight Essential Elements to guide our program development. Each of the eight Essential Elements is crucial to the growth of youth and contributes to a positive environment for youth development to occur.

The eight Essential Elements include: A Positive Relationship with a Caring Adult, An Inclusive Environment, A Safe Emotional and Physical Environment, Opportunity for Mastery, Engagement in Learning, Opportunity to See Oneself as an Active Participant in the Future, Opportunity for Self Determination, and Opportunity to Value and Practice Service to Others. In this article, I will explore the first four Essential Elements. In my next article, we will take a closer look at the last four.

Caring Adults make our 4-H Program possible. Our dedicated volunteers contribute thousands of hours each year to the Jackson County 4-H Program. Adults share their passions with youth, teaching them along the way. No matter the reason adults get involved as volunteers with 4-H, the one thing they all have in common is positive youth development. Dedicated volunteers share their passions by: setting up monthly meetings as club leaders, teaching youth how to sew at summer workshops, spending time with families in the swine barn before fair, serving on the 4-H Council and assisting with fundraising, guiding policy by serving on the Livestock and Auction Committees, etc. The list could go on and on! Youth develop positive relationships with caring adults who help them meet their goals.

An Inclusive Environment is at the heart of the 4-H Program. 4-H is open to all. Inclusive environments create a sense of belonging with 4-H members. 4-H Club leaders foster this sense of inclusivity by making all 4-H members feel welcome in their clubs. Several 4-H clubs have matching t-shirts and this promotes a sense of belonging amongst participants. Purdue University holds the authority for the Indiana 4-H Program and “it is the policy of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service that all persons have equal opportunity and access to its educational programs, services, activities, and facilities.”

We welcome all youth with open arms into the Jackson County 4-H Program. Whether youth are involved in a traditional community club or short term SPARK Club experience, they belong to the 4-H family.

4-H programs foster Safe Emotional and Physical Environments for club members and volunteers. Youth have a safe space to learn when engaged in the 4-H Program. They are free to try something new, make a mistake, and learn from it. Caring adults help them learn along the way, guiding their experience. Our 4-H volunteer application process helps ensure we are recruiting caring adults that have the best interests of youth in mind. Jackson County 4-H volunteers are now required to complete training on the “Essential Elements of Positive Youth Development” within their first year of becoming an approved volunteer.

Youth have the Opportunity for Mastery when participating in the 4-H Program. If youth enroll in a project in the third grade and see that project through completion of their senior year of high school, they most likely have mastered skills in that area of interest. When youth enroll in a project, they receive project manuals that help them learn specific skills. They work on activities throughout the year in preparation to exhibit their projects at the Jackson County Fair. In my own personal life, the 4-H Sewing Project helped me master specific sewing skills. As a third grader, I made an elastic waist-band skirt out of red, white, and blue fabric. In my last year of the 4-H Sewing Project, I made a wool coat. I will say that coat came in very handy while I attended college in cold and snowy Ann Arbor, Michigan! Although I have only been serving in this position since January of 2016, I have been able to see our youth take steps each year to master a variety of topics ranging from sewing to robotics, dog obedience to public speaking, livestock to natural resources.

Join me next month to learn about ways the Jackson County 4-H program incorporates the last four Essential Elements. I do believe Caring Adults is our strongest Essential Element here in Jackson County. I learn from our dedicated volunteers on a daily basis. They truly have the best interests of Jackson County youth in mind and are always looking for ways to grow the program to reach even more youth.

If you are interested in learning more about Jackson County 4-H, contact Heather VonDielingen, 4-H Youth Educator at [email protected] or 812-358-6101. For information about Jackson County 4-H, be sure to visit our website at or “Like” Purdue Extension Jackson County on Facebook.

Heather VonDielingen, who is 4-H youth educator for Jackson County, may be reached at [email protected] or 812-358-6101. Send comments to [email protected].

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