AMES, Iowa – Nearly 60 middle school youth representing nine schools across six Iowa counties met at Upper Iowa University on Nov. 16 to pilot the leadership and civic engagement experience, “Youth Voice in Action.” The program was a joint effort of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach state 4-H staff and the region’s county extension staff.
Participants were encouraged to engage in youth voice, a space for young people to share their distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes and knowledge with each other. Participants learned skills to become better leaders and designed plans to improve their communities.
“The ideas that youth bring to the table and the experiences they have put them in an outstanding position to become leaders in their communities,” said Iowa 4-H Civic Engagement and Leadership Specialist Haley Jones.
Event participants attended workshops led by local professionals with careers in the four priority areas of Iowa 4-H – healthy living, communications and the arts, STEM, and leadership and civic engagement. The speakers gave the youth examples of how to be active in the community through their occupations. One of the workshops taught youth and adult mentors about their unique leadership style and how to identify the style of others.
“The workshop enabled students to make connections relating to their schools, communities, families and peers as they learned how different people communicate, respond and work together,” Jones said.
Youth had the opportunity to hear collegiate 4-H alumni talk about the impact 4-H had on their lives through service and leadership involvement. Fayette County police officer Brian Waid spoke about how his career in service has impacted him and his community. Following Officer Wade’s presentation, youth took time to write thank you notes to police forces in their home towns.
Participants and adult mentors ended the day working together as a school team to create an action plan to solve an issue in their school or community. The plans included ideas for improving school gardens, stopping bullying, spreading kindness, updating school facilities, reducing waste, and outreach to senior citizens.
“It was impactful to witness the youth thoughtfully working together for how they could become change agents within their schools,” said Morgan Bjerke, Allamakee County youth coordinator. “They set some high goals to solve problems within their schools. I am excited to see these plans be implemented, and I can’t wait to see what changes these youth make in their schools and communities.”
Each element of the day supported youth and challenged them to use their voices. “By providing an opportunity for youth and adults to work together on decision making and action plans, we are allowing youth voice to occur,” Jones said. “This is how our youth can continue to become productive citizens and successful leaders in their communities and beyond.”
To learn more about Iowa 4-H and the work staff and volunteers are doing to support Iowa youth visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4h. Individuals interested in joining 4-H or becoming a volunteer should contact their local county ISU Extension and Outreach office.
Morgan Bjerke, Allamakee County Youth Coordinator, 563-568-6345, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nate Weber, Clayton County K-12 Outreach Program Coordinator, 563-245-1451, email@example.com
Michele Kelly, Fayette County Youth Coordinator, 563-425-3331, firstname.lastname@example.org
Angie Sperfslage, Winneshiek County Youth Coordinator, 563-382-2949, email@example.com
PHOTO: Youth Voice in Action participants.