My last blog post was written around Halloween from the NAE4-HA conference at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. The conference itself was an exciting whirlwind of teaching, networking, leading in my role as VP for Professional Development, and meeting a whole bunch of new people who want to help youth thrive! I came home to weeks of phone calls, meetings, and other things needed to set up the next phase of development on the 4-H Thriving Model. That time is a bit of a blur for me, but I also remember it as marked with the feeling of being in the flow like James Carse describes in Breakfast at the Victory, and loving every busy minute of it.

By the time Christmas rolled around I found myself reluctantly caught up in all the preparatory holiday things as we got ready to host family, which now includes two delightful (and very active) young grandchildren. I was definitely caught off guard this season, and found myself scrambling rather breathlessly as Christmas drew near.

One morning I found myself in Trader Joes, the feeling of being in the flow replaced by tension when I heard Kenny Chesney’s Christmas in Dixie coming across the store’s sound system. Now let me say straight up, I am not a country western fan, and while I had heard this song before, I had never heard the song before. When I got back in my car I pulled it up on my phone and found myself instantly in a better mood, with a feeling of the spirit of Christmas for the first time in the season.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is a sweet, if not a tad sappy, imagining of Christmas peace from sunny California to Memphis, Tennessee among other places. For me, that busy morning, the song evoked the special names, faces, and places I have encountered in my 4-H work, and how fortunate I have been to meet so many people and visit so many lovely places. I thought of all of you, my colleagues, getting ready for your own holiday celebrations all across the country, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and good fortune. The network of 4-H professionals we have is inspiring, and I feel so lucky to call you my colleagues and friends.

Also inspiring, and very exciting, are the number of 4-H and youth development professionals from across the country who have stepped forward to lead the next phases of “Advancing the the 4-H Thriving Model,” which is now an officially sanctioned national 4-H Program Leader’s Working Group (PLWG) task force. Three sub groups are getting underway as we start the new year. One will focus on professional development for 4-H professionals and volunteers. The second will conduct additional research on the model to determine “what works for what youth under what conditions?” And the third will provide guidance for organizational alignment across our complex 4-H system to ensure a uniform understanding and implementation of the 4-H Thriving Model.

When I began work on the 4-H Thriving Model in 2013 I had no idea this was where we were heading. In many ways the work is really just now beginning, but I can’t wait to see what happens as the working groups guide our next steps. What I do know is that I am relieved to have so many smart, creative, and dedicated colleagues working on the project now, and the gratitude I felt that rainy December morning in the Trader Joes parking lot is stronger than ever!

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

Mary E. Arnold, Ph.D.
Professor and Youth Development Specialist
Oregon State University

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