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Teen Leaders Gain Leadership, Teamwork and Communication Skills

The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that top priorities in new hires were leadership, collaboration, communication, problem-solving, initiative, flexibility, and a strong work ethic. However, most employers say potential applicants lack these skills. Youth need an environment where they can gain life skills that prepare them for college and careers. Teen leaders need opportunities to enhance life skills, such as team building, responsibility, time management, and understanding. “Involvement in a camp counselor program does indeed appear to have a long-term, positive impact on the lives of participants,” Brandt and Arnold (2006) noted. Their study discussed how “teen 4-H camp counselors play out their role in that interesting place between childhood and adulthood. No longer are they the little ones looking up to their counselor. Instead, as camp counselors, they take on a pseudo-adult role and experience many of the rights and responsibilities of being an adult. It appears that being a 4-H camp counselor is a rewarding and meaningful experience that has a lasting, important impact.”


Summer camps organized around clusters of counties across Indiana provided opportunities for teen leaders to guide younger participants (grades 3-7) through structured activities. Camp counselor training was held during the spring to prepare youth (grades 8-12) for responsibilities to care and oversee campers while teaching them essential elements for positive youth development. Training topics focused on: protection of minors, camp roles, leadership, committee structure, ages and stages of youth development, structured team building, difficult scenarios, emergency action planning, basic first aid, and outdoor safety. During camps, counselors planned and taught classes, supervised free time activities and were responsible for campers in cabins. Plus, counselors led their campers in cabin skits, chants and team activities.


More than 350 youth, grades 8-12, participated in camp counselor training and led activities for younger youth at camps across Indiana. These teens indicated they are in, or have been in, a 4-H club and have competed in county- and state-level events. For learning and applying life skills, camp counselors indicated: If I’m the leader of a group, I make sure that everyone in the group feels important, I feel like I can stand up for what is right, even if my friends disagree, and when I see something that is wrong, I try to change it. For communication skills, counselors reported: I can resolve differences with others in a positive way, and I am aware of my body language and non-verbal communication. Looking at interpersonal skills, youth indicated: I can resolve conflicts in positive ways, and I can work with others to create goals. For skills in collaborating, youth reported: I think everyone on the team is important, I encourage other team members to give their best effort, and I respect the differences and strengths of individuals on the team. Camp counselors indicated that 4-H is a place where they have a chance to be a leader, get to help make group decisions and teach others what they’ve learned, are encouraged to plan for the future, and learn ways to help their community. Counselors stated they learned that everyone’s opinion matters, how to plan out a lesson and ask different questions depending on ages of campers, how to effectively communicate, strategies to make campers feel welcome at camp, how to be patient and respect different backgrounds, new icebreakers, and how to not let their own opinions change how they think about people’s ideas. The Indiana 4-H Camp Counselor Training provided youth in grades 8-12 with skills and activities that contribute to positive youth, leadership, and teamwork development, communication, decisionmaking, and college and career preparation.

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