AMES, Iowa--In Johnson County, 4-H has offered mentoring services through an affiliation with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS) for 30 years. This year, Johnson County 4-H developed a program that combines the one-to-one mentoring of BBBS and the club community activities of 4-H into one program.
“We have a long history of collaboration that will be greatly enhanced by this project,” said Janet Martin, an urban 4-H youth specialist with Iowa State University Extension. “The connection established between 4-H and BBBS will continue even after the funds for this project are exhausted.”
The new Johnson County initiative is funded through the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which pledged $5 million to support 4-H youth-mentoring programs nationwide. Through the Iowa 4-H program, ISU Extension in Johnson County wrote the grant and was awarded $61,000.
“In 4-H, partnerships and youth development are critical for us,” Martin said. “I think there are many partnerships in our communities that strengthen youth development. The partnership between BBBS and 4-H seems like a natural fit.”
Through Big Brothers Big Sisters, mentoring already is an established part of the Johnson County 4-H youth program, but the grant helps further 4-H in the county and enhance the quality of youth programming by offering the benefits of 4-H learning for the “Big” and “Little” matches.
BBBS matches a child with an adult “Big” based on interests and personality to provide the best one-to-one mentor relationship. Martin and others involved with Johnson County 4-H are recruiting matches to participate in the new program
“This is the first time 4-H workshops have been developed specifically for BBBS matches,” Martin said. “For the first time, they’ll experience 4-H learning firsthand and be able to benefit from both one-to-one mentoring and 4-H community club programs.”
The first session of the collaborative program took place in March 2011 and will continue twice a month until June, when they will begin occurring twice a week. Currently, 30 matches are attending the meetings, but Martin anticipates that number to grow to 90 by the end of the year.
Robin Hoffman is a former 4-H’er and former science teacher who plans the 4-H workshops for the grant program. Each meeting has a theme based on 4-H program areas including food and nutrition, photography and citizenship.
The program’s first meeting used “minute to win it” games that involved science-based topics. Other planned events include an “Amazing Race” in downtown Iowa City. The matches will team up with the newly founded collegiate 4-H of the University of Iowa to learn about the history of the city during this fun game-day race. Martin said that her program plans to work with the University of Iowa Collegiate 4-H more often in future projects.
Martin directly oversees this grant project. During her more than 30 years of experience with 4-H in Iowa, she created the first 4-H urban youth mentoring program, which later became BBBS.
The mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County is to help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with mentors that have a measurable impact on youth. The programs of BBBS of Johnson County have proven not only valuable with over 800 matches, but also effective. In addition, while volunteers agree to a one-year commitment, the average length of a match is more than two years. Youth benefit by improved self-confidence, improved attitude toward school, reduced risk of substance abuse and increased school attendance.
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills. One in five Iowa school-age youth participates in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations, and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact an Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4H.