Photo courtesy of Flickr user Alachua County

Delivering 4-H programs across the state, the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development is dispelling the often-held myth that 4-H is only for youth living in rural communities or on farms. While the Extension serves youth in both urban and suburban areas, it is reaching young people in more densely populated areas through their Urban 4-H Youth Development Office, which serves youth in Minneapolis, St. Paul and surrounding suburban communities.

The organization has created three signature programs – Urban Youth Learn, Urban Youth Lead and WeConnect – with the goal of instilling leadership skills, confidence, responsibility and integrity in 4-H members.

“We want our young people to be excited about learning, and we want them to understand how they can be leaders in their communities,” says Jessica Russo, director of the Urban 4-H Youth Development Office. “We also want them to think globally and about how they connect with the world.”

Urban Youth Learn helps volunteers, program leaders and community partners establish youth programs, which take place during non-school hours, while Urban Youth Lead is a leadership development program that exposes young people to the worlds of higher education and careers. WeConnect, a global youth citizenship curriculum, is designed to show kids how they can relate and connect to other people, especially those with different backgrounds.

Students are making the connection between what they’re learning and what they can do with that knowledge,” Russo says. “They recognize that the skills they’re learning are life skills they can apply at home, in college and in the workforce.”

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Habso Khalifa, an 18-year-old member of the Franklin Library 4-H in Minneapolis, is just one example of how Urban 4-H successfully reaches kids. Khalifa says the club’s community engagement projects allow her to help others, including the area’s homeless residents, and she has enjoyed working in a summer vegetable garden and learning about healthy eating habits as a 4-H member for almost five years. In addition, the club has helped her map out her future and taught her things she wouldn’t have learned in school.

“4-H helped me change my life,” Khalifa says. “At first, I was just this kid who moved to Minnesota, who was mad at the world. But then club leader Kathryn Sharpe opened up to me, and those of us at the Franklin Library 4-H became a family. It’s like a second home to me.”


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