Inspiring our next generation of leaders

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Every morning, as I prepare for my workday, I enjoy a bowl of cereal and watch the local news, followed by the beginning of the national news morning shows. Recently, I’ve been dismayed by the morning news and the latest statements made by those elected to a “leadership” position in our country. While the morning news may get me a little down, I know that my day will get better because I work with some of the best up and coming leaders our country has to offer, our youth.

As a 4-H Youth Development agent with UF/IFAS Extension, I know firsthand the passion, excitement, creativity, and ideas youth can bring to the table. We have 4-H Clubs working on amazing community service projects, such as our Clay County Stingers 4-H Club, working to install a pollinator garden and beehive at the Middleburg library to better educate the public about the awesomeness of bees. What’s even better, is that there are ideas our 4-H members have that they may not have shared yet. With the start of the school year, and subsequently our 4-H year, I was thinking of how we can best inspire our youth to be leaders.

Think about a great leader that you know and respect. This may be a coworker, a local politician, a church leader, or friend. These great leaders weren’t born into it, they put in countless hours learning about leadership, working with a team, and getting things done. If we want our youth to become leaders, then they need a chance to learn about how to come together. This can be through a school club, an afterschool program, a church group, or a 4-H Club. The important thing is giving youth a chance to come together to meet and grow.

Once they have an opportunity to meet, they should be inspired to be agents of change. This may start with asking, as a group, why are we all here? Now, if they’re joining a 4-H Club that focuses on computer coding, that’s probably why they are there, they have an interest in computer coding. However, the deeper question is are we here to simply learn about computer coding, or are we here to make a difference in the community, while learning about computer coding? Now working together as a team and developing leadership skills isn’t something that will happen overnight, it will take time. However, setting the stage early on to be agents of change will move the team in the right direction.

After determining why the group is all here, it’s important to work as an equal while giving youth the tools and means to collaborate, problem solve, brainstorm, and plan. As our goal is to work with youth and develop their leadership skills, it is important that we adults be an equal part of the team. Adults have a tendency to want control in a group of youth and have a laid out set of steps to follow. This isn’t always the best plan of action in building a team. Working with the team as an equal will help to bring out their leadership skills and ideas.

Something to keep in mind is your experiences growing up. You experimented, fell down, picked yourself up, and succeeded. It’s important to give young leaders a chance to test their skills and experiment. There are many examples of youth serving as agents of change in their communities and changing lives. If you have a passion for working with youth and inspiring them to be the leaders of tomorrow, consider becoming a 4-H volunteer. For more information about youth leadership or 4-H you can contact Matthew Olson at (904) 284-6355 or m.olson@ufl.edu.

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