Youth Impact: The Power of Leadership Mentoring

by Elizabeth Sanders

Participating in 4‑H has been one of the most rewarding experiences I could have ever imagined. It afforded me with a launching pad that equipped me with a support system, skills, and space to dream. It conditioned me to never settle for mediocre and to strive to always rise to the occasion. The consistent mentorship and encouragement I received during my time in the 4‑H program produced a ripple effect of impact that is reflected in every aspect of my life.

My 4‑H career began just before the fourth grade, thanks to my mother being employed by the University of Tennessee Extension. Having the opportunity to be exposed to other youth and community leaders who displayed a passion for helping youth confirmed that 4‑H was a place I wanted and needed to be. Over the years, the sheep and goat projects developed into leadership and citizenship activities. These moments inspired my career path as a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for UT Extension and prepared me to educate others to assist them in finding real-life solutions.

4‑H has shaped me as an individual by providing caring mentors along the way. As a high school freshman, I decided to take on the challenge of running for Congress Speaker of the House. I sought out the counsel of one of the older 4‑H members in my county, who shared with me their secret to great speeches. He said the key to being a great speaker is not to simply tell a story, but to make a connection.  If he knew it or not, establishing a meaningful connection was not only the secret to great speeches, but the secret to great leadership.

Early in my 4‑H career, I had the opportunity to interact with Jennifer Sirangelo. Through our continued interaction, she showed me what it meant to be compassionate for others, to stand for what you thought was right, and to face challenges head-on. As a great mentor does, she challenged me to operate outside my comfort zone on a regular basis and to pour into others just as others had for me. The service mindset prepared me to enter into a field that strives to serve and empower others. This is just one example of the power of mentorship.  They often see the things in you that you don’t see in yourself and help you grow the underdeveloped parts of you that will aid in becoming a leader in your field.

In a world that is so accustomed to being dominated by men in leadership roles, it was imperative for me to find a network of hardworking and passionate women to help mentor and guide my career. It has been so rewarding to be connected with other women who are committed to the mission of making this world a better place.  To be on the receiving and giving side of mentorship is a learning experience for both parties.  It reinforces the idea that each step in the right direction for one is a part of a leap in the right direction for us all.