On an Update from the Road

Arizona February

This week I hit the road (or the skies, really) to talk thriving with the Arizona 4-H team. It was a bit of a long journey as I woke Tuesday morning to snow and ice for my pre-dawn trip to the airport. The Willamette Valley of Oregon is so temperate that we don’t have very many mornings like these, so I gave myself plenty of time. The weather messed with many trips that day, resulting in sitting for some time on the tarmac in Seattle where a long line of planes was trying to navigate the snow delays. Once we finally left Seattle and made our way to Phoenix the day felt impossibly long, but it was worth it as I looked forward to a full day on Wednesday with the Arizona 4-H team.

Wednesday morning we headed out on an hour-long journey to the meeting site, stopping of course at Starbucks on the way (the Arizona 4-H program leader now understands the basic requirements of my day). Arriving at the Maricopa County Extension office, we were greeted with a room full of 4-H educators, staff, and administrators, most of whom have never heard of the 4-H Thriving Model. The Arizona Extension program evaluator and her team were also there, ready to glean information they can use to support their 4-H staff in designing and evaluating programs using the 4-H Thriving Model. The support for making this happen in Arizona is incredible!

I was especially excited for this day because it was the first time I had a whole day to work with a group on the model. I had planned a series of interactive mini sessions throughout the day to keep everybody engaged. And I knew it was critically important to ground the model in their experience working with youth, so that is where we began. The day looked like this:

First, I had groups of 4-6 discuss and answer four questions:

  1. What draws youth to 4-H? Why do they come? Why do they stay?
  2. What do youth get out of participating in 4-H? What happens? What is the impact? How do you know it happens because of 4-H?
  3. How do you describe a high quality 4-H program? What goes into it? What is essential to make it high quality?
  4. What are the important parts of the relationship between a youth and adults (volunteers, paid staff) in 4-H? What do adults do that make a difference in the lives of 4-H members?

After the groups had answered the questions, each group prepared a colorful poster and placed it on the wall.

Then I gave a brief lecture on the 4-H Thriving Model, emphasizing the three main parts: Developmental context, youth thriving, and developmental outcomes. I also explained the importance of youth engagement in “driving the thriving.”

After lunch small groups worked together to learn one of the thriving indicators, and develop a presentation to teach that indicator to the rest of the group. It was very rewarding to see how the groups digested the information about their indicator, identified a few examples of how it is promoted in 4-H, and taught the others of why promoting that indicator is important for youth development.

Afterwards I gave each poster group a set of small sparkling stars and asked them to go back to their posters and code what they saw on their posters (Green star = sparks; red = developmental relationships; blue =  program quality; silver = youth thriving; and gold = developmental outcomes). The posters glittered with stars showing how the 4-H Thriving Model was already part of what they are doing. It was exciting and confirming! And it really helped everyone see that they are already implementing 4-H Thriving Model every day.

At the end of the day as we sat together in reflection, many wonderful responses were shared. But one response (echoed across many participants) struck me in particular. It went something like this: “I am leaving here so much clearer on of what I am supposed to do! I feel like a lot of the stress I carry about my job- the worry that I don’t know for sure what I should be doing – is gone. I have a roadmap of where to go, and what to focus on, and I can’t wait to put this to use.”

So a full day of training is done, I am safely back in Oregon, and do you know what struck me the most? Not one person was on a computer or otherwise distracted during the day. Everyone was eager to learn, and I don’t know that I have ever worked with a lovelier group of people who care so much about 4-H and youth. Arizona 4-H is in good hands.


Thank you for the honor of working with you this week!

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

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