The state 4-H program leader stood at the front of the room of one hundred teens and was very clear; “A critical part of the solution to today’s world is in each of you.”
Dr. Lisa Diaz shared her leadership concepts to the teens at the Illinois 4-H Teen Leadership Conference held in January in Decatur. “A leader is not always the person at the front of the room, and is not the only one talking,” Diaz said. “There is a beautiful diversity in your gifts and strengths, and that makes us stronger.”
Illinois 4-H recognizes six different leadership roles teen can explore in their 4-H experience. “What role one teen may enjoy is not always what another teen wants to do,” said Debra Stocker, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “This conference helped teens improve their skills in one of the six roles, including, planning, promoting, teaching, mentoring, advocating, and advising.”
This vision of teen leadership has changed the face of membership in Illinois 4-H. Thirty-five percent of 4-H’s 26,500 members in Illinois are teenagers, Diaz said, and more than 1,600 youth started 4-H as a teenager last year.
“Without 4-H, I wouldn’t be as vocal as I am, said Ana Gragg, senior from Springfield. “Now, I’m quick to help and quick to jump up.” Gragg is a member of BOOM: Becoming Our Own Motivation club and studied the advocacy leadership track at the conference.
“4-H gave me opportunities to help my community,” she said. The teen hopes to enter pre-med at Tennessee State University.
Adults also played an important role in the conference so teens have a mentor when they returned to their home communities. Shundell Broomfield knows the importance of 4-H to his Peoria community. Broomfield leads a 4-H club as part of the Peoria Common Place organization, a youth and adult literacy, self-esteem, and life skills building program.
“Being in 4-H has helped us have more doors open,” Broomfield said. “We help kids see they are not an island of themselves, but can help their city grow.
“In our humble place, amazing, awesome things occur,” the mentor said. “We are reinventing the village that has dissolved in our community.” The club is building that community back in many ways, including a community garden and hoop house where participants grow food for local needs. Youth also research careers and small business ideas as part of a 4-H Shark Tank experience.
Broomfield, a 4-H alum, said he uses the four key components of the 4-H pledge to teach life skills to his 4-H teens. “Head, be sober-minded in all you do; heart, remember who you are doing work for; hands, we have a large, awesome responsibility in our communities to enact change; and health, learn how to live and make healthy choices.”
Keith Patterson, 4-H alum and nationally-recognized fire instructor, challenged the youth to continually grow and refine themselves. “There are two types of people, those who walk in a room and those who light up a room,” Patterson said.
“Leaders prepare everyone on their team to be able to push to the next level,” Patterson said. “I give you permission to believe in yourselves unconditionally.”
The conference was supported financially by the Illinois 4-H Foundation which covered half the cost of all participant fees and the full cost of adult mentors.