Dear 4-H Volunteers, Members, Families and Supporters:

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By:  Shannon J. Horrillo

On Friday, August 16, 2013 the State 4-H Futures Task Force met to have an open dialogue around what we love about 4-H and what we don’t love so much with a goal of strengthening the California 4-H Youth Development Program (YDP) for the next 100+ years.

The Task Force is a cross-organizational group of delegates comprised of 4-H youth, adult volunteers, staff, and external partners supporting 4-H’s mission.

There are several reasons for the conversation about the Future of CA 4-H, but most relevant are four findings from the State 4-H Office. To begin with, there is a decline in membership. Most notably, there has been a 59% decline in youth membership in the community club program over the past 40 years. If this trend continues another 40 years, the 4-H community club program will be nearly non-existent. A need to build our capacity for growth through more formalized connections, integration, and synergy across the state to free up resources, reduce missed opportunities, and be more effective and efficient in our work. A need for improved communication as communication doesn’t flow freely across the organization to reach all families. Communication needs to flow down, across, and up the organization to ensure the program’s success. And, finally, we have sparse resources. Over the last 40 years there has also been a reduction in 4-H YDP staff and adult volunteers. We’ve also experienced decreased government funding and an increased need of funding from other sources.

Over the day-long meeting there was a rich conversation about what would strengthen 4-H and the nine key themes which emerged resonated with all. The top five areas of discussion by level of interest were:

  • Organization: How 4-H is organized in CA may impact communication, what we do, and access to resources.  Reorganizing to address administration, management, program development and delivery, and funding challenges may help create additional opportunities for efficiency and combined synergies for shared success and growth.
  • Funding: Everything requires money. Funding is a challenge at every level and dictates programs, delivery, opportunity to participate, and at times ability to support growth. Developing a comprehensive fund development plan based on identified needs of the program will help 4-H secure additional funding.
  • 4-H Public Relations: 4-H has been historically rooted in agriculture, but is much more than that today. 4-H is different than any other youth development organization. 4-H could benefit from a new public image campaign.  Perhaps more public service advertising could help build awareness, recruit new members and adult volunteers, and increase support of the programs offered.
    • Engagement: Engagement is how we interact, recruit and retain youth and adults in the program. Relationships and being part of a community are real tangible benefits from being part of 4-H. We want to increase outreach and participation in the program, particularly among underserved and underrepresented populations. 4-H needs to represent the diversity of the communities we serve and provide rich and diverse programs.
    • Communication: Information doesn’t flow easily through the 4-H organization in any direction.  Despite efforts to push information down from the State to the local levels, information doesn’t get to every individual, and locally information doesn’t always flow back up to the State so that information becomes 2-way.

One key take-away was no matter where people sit in the state, their experiences and pain points are similar with a lot of passion around 4-H and frustration around things that keep us from making the best better.

We’d like to get everyone’s feedback and input on what they love and don’t love about the California 4-H YDP. There is a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/148321398700801/) which we would like everyone to join and engage freely in the conversation. On the Facebook group you will also find the PowerPoint from the Task Force meeting as well as a complete list and description of the nine key themes that emerged.

There will be two separate webinars where we will share a summary of our Task Force session and collect feedback from across the organization.

•       Webinar/Phone 1: September 10, 6:00 – 7:30 pm

–      Call in line: 1-866-740-1260; participant code – 7524783

–      URL: http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/sacc/

•       Webinar/Phone 2 September 18, 6:30 – 8:00 pm

–      Call in line: 1-866-740-1260; participant code – 7524783

–      URL: http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/sacc/

The next steps will be for the Task Force to consolidate the feedback and create a roadmap for California 4-H’s future.

We look forward to getting your input and ideas! Join us in creating the Future of 4-H!