On the Root of Thriving

Fairy Roots Glendaloch, Ireland

Each year as the Season of Busy begins to wind down, I select a new biography to read in the coming year. Last year I chose a marvelous and inspiring biography of Beatrix Potter (by Linda Lear) whom I learned was far more than just the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books. In fact, Potter’s life was so complex and interesting, beginning set against the back drop of Victorian England, and ending as a respected sheep farmer and conservationist in the Lake District, it took me most of the year to make it through the book.

What I find fascinating about biographies is the detail, the back story, to the person described in the book. Invariably, these stories are ones of struggle, determination, and setbacks, that are reflective of the personal grit we explored in this blog in the past few months. While the stories are typically ones of eventual success, it is what happens in between the beginning and the fame that is most interesting to me.

For this year’s reading I chose The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King. Most of you probably know Fred Rogers as Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a beloved and long-running children’s program. Mr. Roger’s work with children was built on the foundational understanding that “children need to know they are loved unconditionally. They crave love and acceptance; they need to know that they belong.

When I thought about writing this first blog post of the new year, I automatically turned to goal setting and how we can help youth set and achieve goals. We’ll get to that soon enough, it is afterall, the Season of Goals and self improvement. But I was struck by this simple statement from Mr. Rogers about love and belonging as the root of positive youth development.

Belonging – where do we find it in the 4-H Thriving Model?

+ Belonging is one of the eight indicators of high quality youth development programs identified by Eccles and Gootman in their 2002 book Community Programs to Promote Youth Development.

+ Of those eight elements, Belonging was the only one that factored statistically into the 4-H Thriving Model in our initial testings.

+ Belonging is emphasized in developmental relationships when adults express care for individual youth and focus on inclusion of all.

+ Belonging is one of the four Essential Elements, a popular framework used in 4-H programs.

Each of these four illustrations of belonging are found in the first part of the model – the place we call the “Developmental Context,” which is the technical term for the settings of 4-H programs. As we know, there are a great many things that contribute to high quality 4-H programs- programs that promote youth thriving. But belonging is the essential, number one, most important, critical, if-you-do-nothing-else-do-this, ingredient in what we do. Creating a place to belong is so important, that without it, the rest of the positive things we try to do in our programs will make little difference.

As we start out the new year, how will you turn your focus on youth belonging?

I am sure I will have many more nuggets of wisdom to share from Mr. Rogers, and I am also sure we will talk about goals and goal setting soon. In the meantime, Happy New Year. I am personally looking forward to the work we will do together in 2019 to help youth thrive!

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold



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