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4-H delivers

Extension partners with counties to reach more youth

Four years ago, Extension 4-H program coordinator Tracy Ignaszewski began working on a way to help youth without funds or transportation participate in 4-H. Today, the 3-year-old Steele County "4-H on Wheels" program, developed in partnership with county commissioners and community housing representatives, provides 450 youth with learning experiences and life skills to help them succeed and give back to their communities.

Tracy Ignaszewski and kids

4-H program coordinator Tracy Ignaszewski gets in on the fun as kids from an Owatonna housing community make piggy banks and learn how to save money. Through local initiatives like 4-H on Wheels, Ignaszewski makes sure Steele County's 4-H program reaches as many youth as possible.

When Ignaszewski realized that financial and transportation challenges were preventing many Steele County youth from participating in 4-H, she worked with her team to find a solution. With the help of Extension educator Sharon Davis, they created 4-H on Wheels, a mobile version of the 4-H after-school club program, delivered at local housing facilities.

The Steele County commissioners were excited by the innovation used to make 4-H accessible to youth of all backgrounds and insisted on funding a position to deliver 4-H on Wheels each summer.

"Steele County is proud of our entire 4-H program, with our strong traditional animal science projects and new outreach like 4-H on Wheels," said County Commissioner Bruce Kubicek. "Tracy does a great job figuring out how to meet the needs of all of our young community members. We want all of our youth to have the learning opportunities that 4-H provides."

Each week throughout the summer, 450 youth at 15 sites learn skills such as communications, problem-solving, working in groups, and community service, which help them in every area of their lives. Already the 4-H on Wheels program has increased the number of youth participating in Steele County 4-H by about 50 percent and the program continues to grow.

The 4-H advantage

According to a 2009 report on positive youth development from Tufts University, youth who participate in 4-H are:

  • more than twice as likely to be civically active and make contributions to their communities
  • 47% less likely to have risky or problem behaviors
  • less likely to experience depression
  • more emotionally engaged with school and have better grades
  • more likely to see themselves going to college
  • more likely to have features of positive youth development: competence, confidence, connection, character and caring

To read more, visit "Waves of the Future: The first five years of the 4-H study of positive youth development" (Tufts University, May 2009).

An important part of an Extension 4-H program coordinator's work is developing and managing relationships to support or deliver programming. 4-H is Minnesota's largest youth-serving program, providing young people with access to youth development programs and activities in all 87 counties. For Steele County 4-H on Wheels, Ignaszewski identified potential housing communities, such as Skyline Gardens, and worked with site managers to organize the locations and youth to participate.

"We have great partnerships with families, schools, parks and recreation, community education, libraries and the county fair board," said Ignaszewski. "All have worked with us to provide young people with 4-H learning opportunities."

Ignaszewski and Davis developed a curriculum for 4-H on Wheels based on the University of Minnesota and Extension 4-H youth development methodologies and resources. Every week during the summer, teacher and 4-H on Wheels coordinator Amy Demmer packs up her car and travels to sites where she guides kids in projects, such as making piggy banks and learning about saving money or painting with recycled materials as they discuss the environment. At the end, each youth gives a presentation about what they made, what worked or didn't, and what they learned. The clubs also choose a community-service project to do every summer.

"It's important for kids to have these positive, hands-on opportunities to learn, be creative and interact with other kids," said Skyline Gardens Manager Marietta Higgens. "The kids are really excited about 4-H and ask if the program will happen again every summer."

To learn more, visit Minnesota 4-H.

Watch a video of Minnesota 4-H in action.

Young man with sheep

Throughout the duration of their 4-H animal science projects, cousins Ben (above) and Kali (left) Jensen learn about the health, feeding, behavior, judging and showing of their animals.


Nineteen-year-old cousins Ben and Kali Jensen have about 23 years of 4-H experience between them. Ben has shown lambs since he was 11, served as officer and president for his 4-H club, completed a woodworking project, and been Sheep Superintendent for the last five years. Kali has shown sheep since she was in kindergarten and has been a 4-H ambassador, president of the 4-H Club Council and Beef and Swine Superintendent for the last five years.

The pair's experiences are good examples of the benefits youth and their communities gain through 4-H.

"I've learned responsibility, leadership, teamwork and helping others," Ben said. "At the fairs, we get to show our work, but more importantly, we teach the public about animals and agriculture — the feed and care of the animals, industry ethics, and products that come from the animals."

Young woman with cow

Whether they're raising a dairy cow or building a robot, 4-H participants are learning important life skills like decision-making, project management, and public speaking. Research has shown that youth involved in 4-H tend to get better grades, engage in less risky behavior, and contribute to their communities. And long-term 4-H involvement means lifelong positive development benefits for youth.

"No matter what project area they work in, 4-H'ers are excited and engaged in their learning," said Tracy Ignaszewski, Steele County 4-H program coordinator. "And that excitement and learning benefits them throughout their lives."

To learn more, visit Minnesota 4-H Projects and Resources.

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