New 4-H Leadership Program Targets Youth in Underserved Communities


2019 4-H Leadership Program on A&T's campus

EAST GREENSBORO (Dec. 21, 2020) - Cooperative Extension at North Carolina A&T State University is one of 12 Extension programs across the country—and the only one at an 1890 land-grant institution—to receive funding to launch a leadership development program aimed at youth in underserved urban and rural communities.

The award is through the National 4-H Council program FOURWARD Fund Positive Youth Development, which supports efforts to build leadership and decision-making skills in youth and give them hands-on leadership experiences. The program targets youth in underserved communities, which includes low-income and minority communities as well as rural and urban communities that lack public services, such as broadband connectivity or access to healthcare. Extension at A&T will receive $15,000 to create a pilot program called Youth Stepping FOURWARD.

“Youth in limited resource communities are not afforded a lot of leadership opportunities and that means they don’t often see themselves as leaders or future leaders,” said Shannon Wiley, Ph.D., 4-H youth development specialist with Extension at A&T. “It’s important that we help prepare them to be the next generation of leaders. It’s important that they know their voices matter and can be heard.”

Wiley and Michelle Eley, Ph.D., Extension community and economic development specialist, will lead the new youth program and will model it on the successful adult leadership development program Community Voices, created by Extension at N.C. A&T with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“This program is about building local leadership capabilities in youth,” said Eley. “They will learn about decision making and problem solving, but it will be grounded in the issues that are most important to them. We want the youth to take ownership and to gain experience working with their peers and adult leaders.”

Youth Stepping FOURWARD will target high school age 4-H members in six North Carolina counties: Chatham, Halifax, Hertford, Mecklenburg, Mitchell and Warren. 4-H agents in these counties are currently recruiting youth for the program. Training sessions for the Extension agents and volunteers who will conduct the program will begin in January. Those adults will present lessons to groups of 4-H members over eight weeks beginning in February. After the virtual learning sessions, the youth will participate in community service projects.

A total of about 90 youth—or about 15 per county—are expected to participate in the pilot program. Programming will be virtual but will switch to in-person if COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Wiley and Eley see Youth Stepping FOURWARD as a launch pad for a comprehensive youth leadership development initiative that offers new opportunities for community service and the chance to work with both peers and adults to solve community problems. The timing, said Eley, couldn’t be better.

“Young people today have real concerns and are looking to make change happen,” she said. “This program lets them know that they can make a difference; they can work for positive change.”