Teens promoting leadership, mentorship and community service. That is the mission of the Douglas County 4-H Teen Leadership Team.

This group of 4-H youth in grades 7-12 come from all over the county and would normally meet once a month to plan community service projects and leadership activities. Of course, this year with COVID-19 we are doing things virtually, including our annual Teen Retreat.

Our annual Regional 4-H Leadership Retreat is usually held over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. We have youth from four or more counties and spend the weekend at a camp where the youth both teach and participate in workshops, team building activities and community service. They are responsible for coming up with a theme, classes, workshops, games and a community service project. Having the 4-H’ers take on organizing of the event gives them ownership and helps with skill building in areas of planning and organizing.

Sadly, we knew that we were not going to be able to hold an in-person event but our Leadership Team still wanted to connect with other 4-H members and participate in learning and leadership activities. After connecting with other 4-H faculty and members from around the state, a planning committee was formed. In a very short period of time, they formed a cohesive working group.

From that group L.I.V.E. (Leaders in a Virtual Environment) was developed.

The team of 12 youth from four counties along with four faculty members from around the state have been working to provide a fun, educational and free mini-retreat. All classes were conceived, developed and are being taught by one of the 4-H’ers. Their goal all along has been to assure that they create an inclusive, safe, virtual environment.

To ensure cost would not be a barrier, they developed classes that require little to no materials. They chose a time they felt would work for most teens and not conflict with school or family commitments. They were focused on keeping the program engaging (since ZOOM fatigue is a real thing), short, interactive and fun!

The result is a three evening, two hour per night, program. Youth can sign up for one, or all, of the classes.

The L.I.V.E. planning committee shows how 4-H empowers young people to be true leaders. They are youth who have confidence; know how to work well with others; can endure through challenges, such as planning a virtual Teen Retreat due to COVID; and will stick with a job until it is done.

4-H programs, like Teen Leadership, provides a hands-on approach which gives young people guidance, tools and encouragement, and then puts them in charge to make great things happen. Life skills such as confidence, independence, resilience and compassion are developed through experiences, not instruction.

However, the outcome is not just a virtual teen retreat, the real outcome is the success 4-H members glean from being in the program. Research shows that 4-H plays a fundamental role in helping youth achieve success. This comes about from out-of-school learning, opportunities for leadership and adult mentoring.

4-H’ers in grades 7-12 are almost four times as likely to make contributions to their communities and two times as likely to be civically active compared to their peers.

“In 4-H, we believe true leaders aren’t born — they’re grown.”

Teresa Middleton is the 4-H Educator at OSU Extension Service of Douglas County. Teresa can be reached by email teresa.middleton@oregonstate.edu or phone at 541-672-4461.

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