4-H ‘Champions’ the movement toward positive youth development through diversity


Iowa State University’s 4-H Youth Development extension applied an innovative structure working toward diversity around working in isolation with their Champion teams.

Jack Nichols

As the demographics have changed and continue to change within Iowa, 4-H continually aims to represent the population, improve diversity and inclusion and provide resources to bridge the gap between the 4-H of yesterday and tomorrow.

Located on the north side of campus is Iowa State’s 4-H Youth Development building, which houses the premiere youth development program of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

According to their Iowa State webpage, in 2016, the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy adopted the 4-H Grows: A Promise to America’s Kids Vision.

This vision states that in 10 years, “4-H will reflect the population demographics, diverse needs and social conditions of the country. This vision has the elements of inclusion, caring adults, involves at least one in five youth and the volunteers and staff reflect the population.”

Anindita Das, stakeholder and partnership development program coordinator, described 4-H’s outreach across Iowa and its purpose for both young and adult Iowans.

“4-H is a multinational organization that scaffolds young people to explore their passion and identify the lightning spark to become tomorrow’s leaders,” Das said. “4-H is a community of seven million young people around the world learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. We serve 100,000 youth and about 7,000 adult volunteers in Iowa in all 99 counties.”

Iowa State’s 4-H vision is to “strive to be the largest youth-serving organization in Iowa by being relevant, welcoming and inclusive as we partner with youth to help them find their passion.”

“Passion is an important and integral part of the 4-H community,” Das said. “Youth and adults come together to create learning opportunities through exciting projects and activities that are related to STEM, communication and arts, leadership and civic engagement and healthy living. With the choice of pursuing topics that youth have a liking toward, this experience allows them to remain interested and engaged. This process over time makes them passionate about their participation in 4-H.”

Adults play a role in the mentorship and guidance within 4-H as the youth learn to become leaders.

“4-H ‘youth-adult partnerships’ is seen as one of the most effective ways to engage both youth and adults in meaningful activities, which contribute to positive experiences and environments in a purposeful manner,” Das said. “Adults and youth work in partnership. Youth can attend, participate or lead through different activities that help in positive youth development.”

Another key aspect of 4-H is collecting data and research toward youth development. While data is collected at individual locations, all information and research is shared nationwide across the 4-H network in order to better understand how diverse young people experience the world.

Diversity and inclusion are key factors in fostering youth development and growth. 4-H strives to provide a fostering environment for diverse youth of Iowa and across the nation.

“To address the continuous shifts in demographic mix in Iowa with a growing non-white population, Iowa 4-H has initiated several efforts to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion to make Iowa 4-H programs relevant and accessible to all Iowans,” Das said. “Prominent among them is the Access Equity Belonging Committee, or Champions group.”

The Champions groups were created to enhance staff awareness, knowledge, skills and competency to work with diverse youth. Comprised of five teams, their focus is on youth with different abilities and disabilities, from the LGBTQIA+ community, refugee/immigrant and and racial ethnic communities with different mental health needs and transitioning in and out of the foster system.

“The traditional Iowa 4-H is white and rural. The changing population mix in Iowa is not reflected in its membership and in its programs,” Das said. “To remain relevant, Iowa 4-H has recognized the need to strategically expand access and remove institutional barriers and practices that limit who can join, feel welcome and lead 4-H programs.”

Each of the Champion groups has spent time planning needs, goals and strategies for youth in their respective groups, along with continuing to work toward addressing issues within cultural diversity.