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Celebrating the generosity of youth

Have you seen the phrase “BIG M” on newer 4-H materials? It is an acronym for the essential elements of positive youth development – belonging, independence, generosity and mastery – that we strive to provide in 4-H programs. Recently, Bureau County youth have been spending a lot of time on the “generosity” part.

Last Saturday, youth from across Bureau County gathered for our annual 4-H Holiday Gift Workshop. Youth spent the morning creating gifts to give to family and friends this holiday season. They worked on several projects and designed each one for the intended recipient.

That afternoon, 4-H Federation completed their winter service project. The group contacted local agencies that serve needy families and found out what types of items were most needed. They made a plan of what they could do to help each agency. The group provided toys for local toy drives, as well as coats, hats and gloves for the food pantry.

We’ve also had several local 4-H clubs working on service projects throughout the past few months. The Manlius Boys and Girls 4-H Club collected food to donate to the Western Bureau County Food Pantry; the Neponset New Beginnings 4-H Club made holiday cards and delivered poinsettias to people in their community. The Walnut Winners 4-H Club visited nursing home residents to share holiday greetings with them. And these are just a few examples – clubs across the county are completing community service projects during the fall and winter months.

While the generosity involved in these projects is wonderful and is certainly worth praising, it is important to note this is not the only concept being learned. When youth work together to help others, they feel they are a valuable part of the community and belong to a group of youth and adult volunteers who share a common goal. This provides opportunities for youth to feel a sense of belonging.

These projects also provide opportunities for youth to develop independence. At our holiday gift workshop; there were five projects to try, but no set schedule as to how much time to spend on each one. Many of the stations included projects that could be completed in a variety of different ways or provided different color or design choices. The 4-H Federation group had to make decisions about which items would be most needed, and what was most appropriate for each group. And when a 4-H club completes a service project, the club votes on what the project will be and how it will be implemented. In completing these projects, youth must make their own decisions and practice such skills as time management, wise use of resources and budgeting, which will all help them develop skills needed for independent living.

Youth may also have opportunities to experience mastery through these projects. Our Holiday Gift Workshop is an annual event; over time, youth can develop mastery of the media and tools being used. Federation participants and clubs can use what they have learned planning and conducting one service project to help them prepare for the next, eventually experiencing mastery as it relates to planning projects and helping others. Some clubs may also repeat the same type of service project in the following years, allowing older club members to experience mastery as they participate in the project each year.

I am proud of our local youth and the generosity they are able to exhibit as they complete projects to benefit others. While it is fun to watch them make gifts, collect donations or interact with others, the most enjoyable parts to observe are the little things — things the kids probably don’t even realize they are doing like watching a young person make a craft, then walk across the room and present it to a parent or sibling with a smile and “I made this for you;” asking 4-Hers who they would like to help and hearing them answer “As many people as possible;” hearing 4-Hers discuss that while it is fun to donate toys, it is also important to make sure local children have warm coats to wear in the winter; and hearing from others how grateful they are to receive donations, gifts and visits from 4-Hers.

We are blessed to live in a community with so many thoughtful and generous young people. I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season!

Jennifer Caldwell is the 4-H and youth development program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension.

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