For more than 100 years, 4‑H has been the nation’s leading youth organization to welcome young people of all beliefs and backgrounds, giving youth voice to express who they are and how they make their lives and communities better. These values are an inherent part of the 4‑H program since our founding when too often the perspectives and potential of young people were overlooked in improving their communities. As a result, a powerful program called 4‑H was created and has grown to empower nearly six million kids across the country today willing to take on societal issues such as addressing community health inequities, advancing innovations in technology, engaging in civil discourse and advocating for equity and inclusion for all.
Our alumni often share that the life lessons, skills, and values they gained from their 4‑H experience still motivate and influence what they do today. You will frequently hear words like confidence, character, acceptance, leadership, resilience and compassion. These very same traits are the ones we see exhibited every day from 30,000 trained youth development professionals and 500,000 volunteers nationwide who believe unequivocally in the value of every young person. These individuals are anchors of their community welcoming youth with open arms, open minds and open hearts with the goal of inspiring young people to succeed in all aspects of their lives and see their greatest success as the impact they leave on others.
These 4‑H values are shared by more than 25 million Americans who are 4‑H alumni, who love their organization and share their own experiences of meeting people from different backgrounds, being exposed to new ideas and seeing both the importance of our diversity and the power of what we can do when we bring our diversity together.
No place are these values more important than ensuring today that all young people know that 4‑H is a welcoming environment for who they are and their beliefs. Together, Cooperative Extension and National 4‑H Council affirm our shared values of inclusion for all youth in 4‑H programs and we know our programs have been particularly relevant and impactful to LGBTQ+ youth. Cooperative Extension institutions have been unwavering in their commitment to serving all youth, including LGBTQ+ young people. 4‑H programs in every state and county in America are governed by state laws regarding non-discrimination in public education as well as land grant university policies regarding diversity and inclusiveness in its many forms. We are proud that some of the best examples across the 4‑H network in demonstrating this commitment follow 4‑H’s tradition of youth and adult partnerships working collaboratively. From youth-led summits sharing best practices about inclusion of LGBTQ+ youth to trainings providing guidance for 4‑H professionals and volunteers, 4‑H is creating safe and inclusive environments where all youth have the opportunity to develop skills in partnership with caring adults and feel a sense of belonging.
These programs are only a small sample of our larger network determined to expand its reach to 10 million kids representative of America’s diversity over the next 10 years. We understand there are various points of view in our country around the differences we share and many times these views can create a more polarized society. What can’t divide or deter us is the common love and acceptance we have for all of our kids. 4‑H will continue to stay vigilant in our outreach, support and service to America’s youth no matter the challenge, circumstance or implications.
This is who we have always been–helping all kids pledge their Head, their Heart, their Hands and their Health to the service and betterment of our country and our world.
This is 4‑H.
Dr. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy
Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO, National 4‑H Council