National 4-H Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Team Up to Empower Youth in Creating Healthier Communities

By National 4-H Council September 14, 2017

Chevy Chase, Md. (September 14, 2017) – The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest health philanthropy, has awarded National 4‑H Council (Council) a $4.6 million grant to improve the health of 1,000 communities across the nation over the next ten years.

To reach this goal, Council will engage the national Cooperative Extension System (CES), which includes land-grant universities that serve every county and parish in the United States, to help local Health Councils implement action plans that ensure all community members can be healthier at every stage of life.

Leveraging 4‑H’s proven youth leadership model, youth will work alongside community members, local public health organizations, businesses, government entities, and non-profit agencies to address top public health priorities, such as individual and community well-being, prevention and treatment of chronic disease, and reductions in health care costs.

“For more than 100 years, 4‑H has engaged youth as catalyst and game-changers to drive positive outcomes in their local communities,” said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4‑H Council. “Given all that we know about the power of youth innovation and leadership, we could not be more excited to partner with RWJF in this effort to activate today’s youth to help solve the critical health challenges facing today’s families.”

“We are so proud and excited to be partnering with National 4‑H Council to help improve the health in rural communities. No organization is better positioned to empower youth to lead the charge in improving health. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be healthier—no matter who they are or where they live. Through this partnership we hope to engage every sector—business, education, health, housing—to create the opportunity for health and well-being in all communities,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

To begin this ten-year joint effort, Council will work with five land-grant universities (LGUs) to identify a minimum of three communities to develop an action plan and connect with at least 150 volunteers to mentor youth leaders, build local capacity and ensure successful implementation of the action plan. The five selected land-grant universities include: South Dakota State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, University of Minnesota, University of Tennessee and Utah State University. These universities were selected, in part, based on their preparedness to drive innovation for other communities and to implement the pilot projects at scale. Washington State University will serve as a lead consultant on professional development for the participating communities. An additional 56 LGUs will begin to lay the groundwork for expansion into further communities in the future.

Their work together will focus on three key elements to accomplish transformational change: (1) designing a sustainable network structure to promote health and well-being in communities across the nation; (2) creating and disseminating tools for healthier communities; and (3) launching a training curriculum for local community advocates. This approach will exponentially increase the impact and outcomes of the local Health Councils to drive impactful, sustainable changes.

Michelle Rodgers, PhD, project director and associate dean and director of Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware, says one of the unique aspects of the CES approach is that one initiative can drive outcomes for both rural and urban communities. “This initiative taps into everything that the Cooperative Extension System has done well since we were formed over a century ago as the national education and community development program of the nation’s land-grant universities,” said Rodgers. “When we combine this with America’s philanthropy leader in health, it is amazing to envision the transformative impact we will have in communities throughout the country.”

About 4‑H

4‑H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for career tomorrow. 4‑H programs empower nearly six million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4‑H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA, and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. Globally, 4‑H collaborates with independent programs to empower one million youth in 50 countries. The research-backed 4‑H experience grows young people who are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs.

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About Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at