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Expanding Inclusive Opportunities for Youth and Volunteers
Today we find a far richer mixture of family backgrounds, ethnic heritages, and physical and mental abilities in our 4-H membership than ever before. This mixture sometimes presents challenges for volunteer leaders and members alike as they learn to function successfully in this larger picture. But what a terrific opportunity we have to blend our talents into positive outcomes.
No one has yet come up with a sure-fire recipe for success in inclusive programming. However, there are some key ingredients in the base of every good mix:
- Positive attitude
This begins with the volunteer leader and spreads contagiously to the members.
- Clear and consistent expectations
Establish what is okay today will be okay tomorrow, and doing what is not okay will have defined consequences.
- Everybody counts
Communicate that each individual is a valued member of the group and care is taken to recognize and meet each individual’s needs.
- Adaptation is acceptable
“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is out. “Let’s see how we can do this to make it work” is in.
Once these key ingredients are in place, the programming possibilities are unlimited. In order to offer 4-H experiences and opportunities to everyone and anyone who wants to be involved, we need to do our best to get rid of any obstacles that might keep 4-H from including everyone.
The best advice for inclusion: Treat every child equally
Ron Morley, 4-H volunteer leader in Clare County and assistant superintendent for special education for the Clare Gladwin Regional Educational Service District, offers these quick tips for volunteers who have opportunities to include young people with disabilities in their 4-H club:
- When you plan a meeting make sure it is in a space or location that is accessible to everyone.
- Use your teens. Encourage teen leader pairing so that a child with a disability has someone to work with.
- All projects should involve everyone. The beauty of the project is in the eye of the beholder - the important thing is that everyone gets to complete the project.
- One thing a volunteer or club can do is contact the special education department of the local school district. They can be great resources - they have people trained to work with children with special needs.
- Ask parents about the specific disabilities and needs of a child and offer to accommodate and pay attention to the child’s needs.
- Encourage team showmanship. This allows a team to bring their individual strengths to the team’s success. It also reduces the emphasis on any team member’s individual abilities or disabilities.
Consider physical environments when programming
When working to make 4-H activities accessible, consider the physical environment. Whether you’re looking for a meeting site that will accommodate a wheelchair user or planning inclusive activities for your 4-H club or group, keep the following tips in mind:
- Check the accessibility of the building entrances and exits, hallways, rooms, lighting, drinking fountains, safety procedures and other factors.
- Doorways and walkways should be 32 inches to 36 inches wide.
- Ramp slopes should not be greater than 1:12.
- When working around a table, leave a space without a chair to accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair.
- Keep all walkways free of clutter.
- Place all supplies and educational materials within reach and convenient to where 4-H’ers will use them. This way, you and the young people don’t have to carry things from place to place.
- Everyone Shares the Opportunity to Serve
4-H groups that engage in community service give their members a chance to learn what it’s like to help someone else by using their individual abilities. Abilities are found in persons with and without disabilities. Involve 4-H’ers who have disabilities as active participants in your community service projects. Through participating in community service efforts, all 4-H’ers can develop the very qualities that will prepare them to become good citizens and leaders.
For more information on how to get involved as a youth or volunteer, contact your county MSU Extension office or:
Karen Waite, 4-H Youth Equine Specialist
4-H Proud Equestrians Program Coordinator
Michigan State University
1287J Anthony Hall
East Lansing, MI 48824-1111