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The Key People in the 4-H Youth Development Program

A team of individuals filling a variety of roles and responsibilities work together to deliver an effective 4-H Youth Development Program.


Purpose: Volunteers are key to the success of the local 4-H Youth Development Program and should represent all segments of the community. The primary purpose of volunteer involvement is to help assure that the 4-H Youth Development Program is designed and delivered in a way that best serves the community.

The secondary purpose of involving volunteers in the 4-H Youth Development Program is so that adults, too, can benefit and learn because of the university link to their county. All volunteers need to participate in educational updates to assure they are using current techniques and information.

Goals: The personal goals of volunteers involved in the 4-H Youth Development Program are as numerous as the number of volunteers, but six general goals will apply to many volunteers who choose to be involved in the 4-H Youth Development Program. They are:

  1. To make their community a better place for young people to grow.
  2. To watch young people learn and have educational success.
  3. To receive community recognition.
  4. To spend time with people they enjoy and who share similar values (including their families).
  5. To assure that the 4-H Youth Development Program is viable and available to people in their community.
  6. To satisfy a personal need or a perceived obligation to serve their community.

Functions: The activities of volunteers will vary depending upon the roles, programs, and counties to which they are assigned. Functions of volunteers, however, can be stated in general terms and give insight into volunteer roles that lead to an effective county 4-H Youth Development Program. Three main functions are listed below with brief explanations.

  1. ​The Policy-Making Function: When volunteers serve in a policy-making function, they establish guidelines and make decisions that affect the program direction. These volunteers assure that local guidelines and policies are consistent with state and federal   4-H Youth Development Program policies and procedures. Policies should be evaluated periodically to ensure they remain appropriate and are inclusive, rather than exclusive.
  2. The Advisory Function: Volunteers who serve in advisory roles provide information to help decision makers reach decisions most suited to the various needs of many people. Advisory groups do not make decisions about program design, but rather make recommendations from their personal perspectives. The advice is often one of several factors that contribute to the final decision.
  3. The Implementation Function: Those who work with youth: These volunteers actually implement the 4-H Youth Development Program. They teach, nurture, support, and work with young people. These are the club leaders, the subject matter helpers, special interest volunteers, the teachers, and the judges. These volunteers design educational opportunities to assure what is learned is accurate and current. They are expected to do so while following Purdue University and 4-H Youth Development policies and procedures. Those who develop and request financial support for the 4-H Youth Development Program: These volunteers work in a variety of ways to raise funds for 4-H in accordance with fundraising guidelines. They write proposals, tell the 4-H story to potential donors and legislators, and support the operations of the state 4-H Foundation. Those who serve in coordinator roles (those who guide the activities of other volunteers): These volunteers teach other volunteers and help the adults or older teens conduct various 4-H Youth Development Program opportunities. Volunteer coordinators serve as subject matter coordinators, advisor/mentors, one-time-event coordinators, and ongoing activity coordinators.​
  4. The Role of Youth as Volunteers: 4-H believes in providing opportunities for youth that prepare them to lead in their lives, communities, and careers. Therefore 4-H wants to encourage the role of youth as volunteers and mentors to younger members. There are many ways to incorporate youth as volunteers and empower youth in leadership development and leadership roles. For example, one way to incorporate youth voices in leadership is to include a youth representative on the 4-H Youth Development Council or Fair Board. Further information for developing strong youth and adult partnerships are found at the following links. (Youth and Adult Partnerships Presentation NotesYouth and Adult Partnership Presentation SlidesHand-outsSuggested Meeting Agenda, and Discussion Prompts and Responses)

4-H Youth Development Program Assistants

4-H Youth Development Program Assistants are hired in some counties to help facilitate a quality 4-H Youth Development Program. County-based Program Assistants work under the direction and supervision of a 4-H Extension Educator who is ultimately accountable to provide local leadership for the 4-H Youth Development Program. The Extension Educator may delegate some of the tasks related to the seven functions that guide the activities of a successful 4-H Youth Development Council to the Program Assistant. The county usually hires Program Assistants, and job descriptions are developed locally. Program leadership, program planning, and volunteer identification, screening, and development should remain the responsibility of the Extension Educator.

4-H Youth Development Extension Educators

The primary responsibility and purpose of the Extension Educator is to provide educational leadership in carrying out the Extension and 4-H missions in the local community. The Extension Educator, as the "leader" of the non-formal youth development education program in the county, is expected to be the spokesperson for the 4-H Youth Development Program and to work closely with the 4-H Youth Development Council in carrying out the program-planning process. In addition, the Extension Educator is a full-fledged staff member of Purdue University, with all rights, privileges, and responsibilities of administrative professional staff.

Another major responsibility of the local Extension Educator is to develop and support ongoing local volunteer leadership efforts that strengthen opportunities for youth and adults to learn together in positive, meaningful ways. This responsibility includes a major commitment to adult education.
The following six statements identify the primary responsibilities of the local Extension Educator:
  1. To communicate the philosophy and goals of Extension and 4-H to a wide audience.
  2. To complete appropriate ongoing program planning and development to assure that the 4-H Youth Development Program meets the needs of youth and adults in the county.
  3. To assure that local leadership is skillful in helping direct and lead the program to meet the needs of youth and adults.
  4. To conduct meaningful educational programs, thereby assuring that many people have access to information available from the land-grant university system
  5. To network with people and organizations throughout the county so that Extension materials and information are made available to those who could benefit.
  6. To remain up-to-date professionally and be skillful in adapting to change.
Functions: The specific activities of the local 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator may vary in each county. Even so, the functions described previously for the 4-H Youth Development Council will also apply to the Extension Educator. The Extension Educator must be attentive to leading and to making available opportunities for volunteers to share in the responsibility of carrying out the functions. Extension Educators complete different aspects of the six functions than the volunteers; it is through a partnership that they will create a quality 4-H Youth Development Program in their county. When the Extension Educator and the volunteers work cooperatively on the functions (listed below), the 4-H Youth Development Program grows stronger and stays current.
  1. Conduct program planning.
  2. Lead and monitor audience development.
  3. Develop and implement volunteer staff development.
  4. Provide for and promote resource development.
  5. Ensure resource accountability.
  6. Guide, assure, and supervise program visibility.
  7. Manage interagency programming.
Extension Educators provide the link between Land Grant University research and Indiana residents by creating innovative learning opportunities that address local issues. Dedicated to helping improve the quality of life for current and future residents, Educators collaborate with local, county and state agencies, partner organizations, businesses and schools to analyze needs, develop, implement and oversee vibrant and sustainable research-based educational programs, and provide resources and expertise to the local community.
  • Work with state and local advisory committees to conduct needs assessments that identify critically important issues.
  • Develop effective and contemporary approaches to plan, deliver and evaluate programming.
  • Ensure all efforts are made to reach diverse audiences and provide equitable access to programs and facilities.
  • Identify, recruit, screen, approve, place, develop, and evaluate the volunteer leadership necessary to help carry out the mission of Purdue Extension.
  • Develop regular and effective communications and working relationships with colleagues, partners and stakeholders within the community.
  • Quantify, communicate and promote the value of Extension education to key stakeholders, partners and decision-makers.
  • Develop and cultivate external funding sources to enhance educational programming.
  • Participate in and/or lead teams to enhance the scope and reach of Extension programming.

Purdue Extension Youth Specialists

The Purdue 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialists provide statewide leadership for the 4-H Youth Development Program. The State 4-H Extension Specialists work with County Extension Educators to determine needs statewide.

The responsibilities of Purdue 4-H Youth Extension Specialists include:
    1. Communicate the philosophy and goals of Extension and 4-H.
    1. Meet the needs of the statewide 4-H Youth Development Program.
    1. Design 4-H educational opportunities on critical issues facing youth.
  1. Remain current professionally.
Functions: The specific activities of the 4-H Youth Extension Specialists vary from position to position, but the functions are consistent.
  1. To teach both youth and adults in the 4-H Youth Development Program.
  2. To design and conduct staff development for Extension Staff and Volunteers.
  3. To conduct applied research that is designed to enhance the implementation of the 4-H Youth Development Program.
  4. To design and write curriculum for the 4-H Youth Development Program.
  5. To develop and implement programs and materials which provide for specialized learning opportunities for 4-H youth.
  6. To evaluate and refine programs based on the identified needs of youth.
  7. To conduct statewide needs assessments to determine directions of statewide program development.
  8. To facilitate effective resource development.
  9. To remain current professionally.