AMES, Iowa - A diverse group of 35 youth in grades 7-12 and accompanying adults from 11 counties spent a weekend prioritizing their mental health and well-being by connecting and reflecting with each other, learning how mindfulness can positively impact their daily life, and practicing new skills, experiencing the benefits of nature, and engaging in fun camp activities. They were participating in the 4-H THR!VE Mindfulness Retreat, Oct. 8-10 at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa.
During the event, 4-H staff members facilitated sessions from the new “Mindful Teen: From Surviving to Thriving" 4-H curriculum. Participants discovered new and healthy ways to help them face obstacles, cope with stress, and improve relationships and performance at work, in school, and in extracurricular activities. They also learned and engaged in a variety of mindfulness practices and activities including breathing meditations; practicing self-compassion, loving-kindness, and gratitude with themselves and others; mindful eating; body scan meditations; walking a labyrinth; five senses nature hike; mindful art; guided visualization; team building and goal setting.
In 2020, a national 4-H survey of youth found 7 in 10 teens are experiencing struggles with their mental health and that 82% of teens wish America would talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues. Additionally, rates of suicide are increasing, and individuals of all ages have been facing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 4-H THR!VE Mindfulness Retreat was an innovative initiative to support the needs and interests of Iowa youth by providing them and their caring, accompanying adult with time and space to help them develop mindful relationships, embrace the present moment, explore mindful practices, and create an action plan for moving forward, noted Tiffany Berkenes, 4-H youth program specialist. An Excellence in Extension Innovative Program Grant was available to financially support registration costs and made it more affordable for participants.
The youth reported that they feel good about making positive choices for themselves. They enjoyed taking a break from their fast-paced lives, learning how to slow down, listen to their bodies, clear their mind and feel their feelings.
“Participants shared that this experience made them feel calm and refreshed, relaxed and recharged, accepted, encouraged, creative, more connected, confident and better able to manage stress,” said Berkenes. “They left feeling like they had new tools they could incorporate into their daily life, as well as share with their families, friends, teammates and community.”
Youth and adult participants also got to experience fun recreational camp activities such as ziplining, rock wall climbing, archery, canoeing, a camp fire and games. Adult attendees appreciated the opportunity to help their youth express themselves and to practice techniques that will be useful in their everyday lives.
“With the conclusion of this successful event, Iowa 4-H looks forward to offering mindfulness retreat opportunities for teens or potentially younger age groups and accompanying adults in the future. 4-H also continues to offer The Mindful Teen program, facilitator trainings for any caring adult interested in mindfulness, and are currently piloting a virtual family mindfulness series,” Berkenes said.
Through youth-adult partnerships, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development strives to empower youth to reach their full potential, discover their passions, and support their growth and positive development by providing youth with relevant and inclusive programming and opportunities.
For more information on these and other Iowa 4-H Youth Development Healthy Living programs, please contact Laura Liechty at email@example.com or Tiffany Berkenes at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Iowa 4-H website at www.extension.iastate.edu/4h.