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Building the Youth-Adult Partnership

Program Contact: Yakima County 4-H Program Coordinator
(509) 574-1600 •

Fostering a club culture where all youth can thrive is the goal of a 4-H volunteer

You want them to learn, you want them to be excited for their projects, but you also want them to get along and to understand the boundaries of a youth-adult partnership.  This is where people tend to start to feel overwhelmed – how do 4-H volunteers build their team and create a place where everyone feels like they belong?

The Youth-Adult Partnership

A youth in a green 4-H shirt waters a rose garden with an adult leader

4-H is a youth-driven program.  This means that the young people in our clubs have meaningful opportunities to make decisions.  Their voices are central to the entire program.  4-H clubs provide youth safe settings for learning the skills for leadership and to practice the decision making process while being supported by caring adults.

When youth feel empowered in this way, they “learn by doing” – they become stronger leaders, team players, conversation facilitators, and problem solvers.  They learn how to plan together, navigate conflict as a group, and work through their differences with kindness and respect.

Youth can take many different leadership roles within their clubs, their communities, their country, and their world.

Club officer positions allow for youth to take ownership of meetings and to learn how to formally conduct club business.

Fundraisers to support club projects and programs provide youth with experience planning events and managing club finances.

Service projects allow youth to connect with the larger community in which they live, whether those projects are volunteering to support a cause they believe in or service learning projects.

Workshops, showcases, clinics, and other events give youth the opportunity to demonstrate these skills and their projects beyond just the fair.  The planning, public speaking, and leadership skills build the sense of belonging youth have in their communities as they discover they do have a voice and the means to create opportunities for others in their community.

Check out this article from’s 4-H Volunteerism Resources library on Practicing Youth-Adult Partnership (PDF) for a research-based deep dive into this area.

4-H Youth In Action: The Power Of Youth-Adult Partnerships Research and Insights from National 4-H 4-H Today Blog

The 4-H Thrive Model

A red flower with yellow center on a stem with six leaves

Developmental Context (4-H Programs)

The 4-H Thrive Model starts with the developmental context.  If we use a plant to illustrate this idea, this is the soil in which it s planted.  It includes a youth’s sparks – the interests that light up their faces with excitement, their sense of belonging, the relationships they have with their peers and caring adults, and their sense of engagement.

Youth Thriving (Social, Emotional, & Cognitive Learning)

Youth who thrive have people in their lives encouraging their social, emotional, and cognitive learning.  They develop a growth mindset and learn that failure is part of learning.  They are open to challenges and discovering new things and find hopeful purpose in their lives.  They have a prosocial orientation, meaning they believe in supporting others, being compassionate, and not intentionally causing harm.  They develop transcendent awareness – a sense of connection to others that goes beyond just what others can do for them.  They find ways to express positive emotions and to express all emotions in healthy ways.  Youth also learn how to set goals and to manage their time and expectations.

Developmental Outcomes (Positive Youth Development)

The developmental outcomes for the 4-H Thriving Model go beyond the 4-H club setting.  Youth develop a positive academic attitude and become more socially competent.  They set their own personal standards and learn how to maintain their connections with others.  They accept personal responsibility for their words and actions and understand that they, too, have a contribution to make to their communities.

Long-Term Outcomes

Encouraging a youth to thrive in a youth development program such as 4-H has a benefit that reaches far beyond just the club setting.  Youth meet with academic or vocational success when they learn in a supportive setting that they can try new things and learn from them whether or not they go as planned.  They are more likely to be civically engaged when they have the opportunity to learn early that their voice matters and they can create change.  They are more likely to be considered employable and to experience economic stability after learning how to be leaders in their clubs and to develop their projects from start to finish.  And overall, youth who thrive are more likely to experience happiness and wellbeing as they navigate their daily lives.

What is Positive Youth Development?

Resource Library

Lesson plans on how to create a club culture that centers on belonging, acceptance, affirmation, and positive youth-adult partnerships.

Tools for Club Volunteers

Washington 4-H Volunteer Training

Volunteer Training and Resources

The Washington State 4-H Youth Development Program is committed to offering both current and prospective volunteers a direct and convenient way to access essential training materials and other resources. To learn more about what is required to become a volunteer, contact your local Extension Office.

Diversity and Inclusion Resources

The below resources cover a variety of Diversity and Inclusion Topics, including:

Equity and Inclusion
Immigrants and New Americans
Race and Ethnicity
Special Needs

Facilitate the Awesome

It is our strongly held belief in 4-H that teens should be able to invest their voices and skills in the programs in which they participate. A program that provides more opportunities for all teens to utilize their unique skills and talents will be a more successful and engaging program. These modules give adult advisers realistic knowledge, tools, and practice for enhancing communication and engagement with teen partners.

The “Facilitate the Awesome” Teen Adviser Module is an 8-hour experiential program focused on advancing adult knowledge and skills related to adolescent development (physical, emotional and neurological), motivation and team-building through strengths-based programming, and risk management though trauma-awareness and inquiry techniques. Key skills developed include facilitating teen leadership through collaboration, empathy and perspective taking, modeling growth mindset, goal-setting and decision-making, as well as visioning a blueprint for inclusive and trauma-informed programs where authentic peer support can be experienced.

Additional Resources

From University of Minnesota Extension

Experiential Learning Guide – University of Minnesota Extension

This field guide is a practical tool for adults working with youth in growing and developing through experiential learning. The guide prompts adults with questions through each stage of the five-step experiential learning model: experience, share, process, generalize and apply.

Program Applications for Developmental Stages – University of Minnesota Extension

This guide provides information on ages and stages of youth development from age 5-19, with practical applications for a youth program setting.

Understanding Youth Behaviors – Club Scenarios – University of Minnesota Extension

In this lesson, youth and adult leaders of youth programs learn to intentionally support youth of all abilities by examining potential scenarios that they may experience while working with youth and brainstorming ways to help all youth be successful.

Understanding Youth Behaviors – Staff and Volunteer Resources – University of Minnesota Extension

In this lesson, 4-H staff and volunteers will examine potential scenarios they may experience while working with youth in 4-H and brainstorm how to help all youth be successful. The purpose of this activity is to think creatively about ways to intentionally support youth of all abilities.

Being intentional about helping youth interact, understand and support those around them will improve the experience of all participants.

Activities for Club Meetings

Additional Activities

From University of Minnesota Extension


In this lesson, youth learn what gives people a sense of belonging by reflecting on what their program/club is doing well and what they could improve to help everyone feel they belong.


In this 4-H club meeting, youth learn about our connection to each other by creating a gear board to explore how we can give and catch kindness to have a positive impact.

Finding the Opportunity within Problems

In this lesson, youth in grades 3-6 learn to look for the opportunity within a problem by practicing this strategy with group challenge activities.

Four Corners – Belonging and Inclusion

By hearing each other’s unique perspectives through an energetic “Four Corners” get-to-know-you activity, youth and adult volunteers identify what makes them feel like they belong and are included in their youth program settings.

Icebreakers, Team Challenges, and Other Group Games

This guide contains many ideas for icebreakers, team-building challenges, and other random and fun games you can incorporate into your youth programming.

Identifying Strengths Using One-Page Descriptions

In this lesson, youth and adults think about their strengths, needs and interests by creating one-page descriptions that share what is important to them, what people like and admire about them, how to best support them and what they want to do or learn about.

Identity (Beginning)

In this 4-H club meeting, youth are introduced to the concept of identity by creating an identity wheel.

Identity (Advanced)

In this 4-H club meeting, youth learn about identity through the lens of power and privilege.

Identity Etiquette:  Consent is the Game

In this lesson, participants learn how they can respectfully greet, interact with, speak about and reference people when they are not present.

My Multicultural Self

In this lesson, youth learn about their own identity and the stereotypes we have. Through sharing stories, youth discover what they consider to be the most important aspects of their own identities. They will challenge stereotypes by developing their own statements and reflecting on where stereotypes come from and how to eliminate them.

Our Group Strengths

In this lesson, identify the strengths of your youth group and create a plan for how you will use those strengths to be a place for youth of all abilities.


In this 4-H club meeting, youth learn how our views are framed by our experiences by watching a video about garbage.

Privilege for Sale

In this lesson, youth identify privileges they take for granted or do not realize they have. By participating in a simulation where privilege can be bought with money, they will reflect on the experience of having or not having privileges.

Reflection Activities

This quick guide to reflection provides tips for building healthy reflection into your teaching, as well as reflection activities ideas and sample reflection questions.

Social Emotional Wellbeing: A Guide to Support Youth Thriving

This collection of resources helps youth reflect, connect and thrive while managing the effects of stress and loss. Designed for youth in grades 3-8, the guide includes:

  • Three sets of simple strategies that focus on social emotional wellbeing in everyday programs and practices.
  • Six step-by-step lesson plans for conducting activities in a group (virtual or in-person) or individually and debriefed as a group.
  • Six quick guides with practical tips for volunteers and staff that introduce topics and why they matter.

Step and Connect

In this lesson, participants form a circle and step forward if statements read by the facilitator are true for them. The purpose of the activity is to create connections, discover commonalities and acknowledge differences among members of a group.

From Utah State University Extension

Discover 4-H Building Confidence

Discover 4-H Building Healthy Relationships

These club meeting outlines are available from Utah 4-H’s Discover curriculum page for individual download.