The broad theme, "Aiming for Adventure," emphasized the purpose of the conference, said Brenda Allen, a 4-H youth development specialist with . "This is a leadership development conference for high school students. We hope they build many skills while they're here, and experience the four components of 4-H: fun, friends, voice and choice."
The Iowa 4-H Youth Conference is one of the largest youth-led 4-H conferences in the nation, drawing nearly 1,000 4-H'ers and non 4-H'ers every year for workshops, motivational speakers, service projects, games and dances. Although the conference format often stays the same year to year, the theme, speakers and content of the workshops change to give the event new flavor. Workshop directors are given the theme, and then create workshops that tie in.
"Whether you're in 4-H or not, it's good to explore what you might want to study in the future and learn leadership and teamwork skills and skills to help you become more assertive and able to contribute to your community," Allen said.
Conference provides a number of opportunities for youth
"One of the biggest aspects of the conference is that students see what opportunities are out there, that the world is greater than their local community," Allen said. "We want them to see that if they push themselves, they can take advantage of those opportunities."
The workshops and community service projects help youth develop those skills. Workshop topics range from food and art to money and robotics and everything in between. "We hope that the students build a variety of skills with the workshops we provide," Allen said. "We partner with academic departments on campus, so this is a chance for young people to explore potential careers or majors in college and to develop a relationship with faculty."
The workshops take place all over the Iowa State University campus
A new workshop that focuses on evaluating the impact of conference attendance in the lives of youth participants from the students' perspective was offered this year. The workshop, called "Uncovering the Adventure's Treasures," placed 12 conference youth in the role of evaluators. They developed questions for a survey to distribute to 200 randomly selected students on the last day of the conference.
"Students' collective voice makes a difference, as do their thoughts and perspectives. The 4-H Youth Conference is theirs and they have a voice in how it is run, how it is evaluated and how the conference changes based on the skills and needs of young people," said Uncovering the Adventure's Treasures workshop co-director Keli Tallman, an ISU Extension 4-H youth development state specialist. "The students who attended the workshop developed the questions, determined the most effective evaluation tool to obtain responses and strategized how to effectively distribute the questions to conference participants. They led their own workshop."
Education and service projects are not the only aspects that make the conference an adventure to remember. Fun activities and meeting new people are key components as well. Each year, a banquet is held for conference participants and youth and adult conference planners. This allows the planners and participants to kick back and relax and get to know one another.
"I came because I knew it would be fun," said Morgan Sladek, a Johnson County senior. "I not only had an amazing time, but met many awesome people as well."
Non 4-H'ers can get involved too; 45 such youth attended with their friends
The adventure isn't just for 4-H'ers. This year 45 non 4-H members attended the conference with their friends.
"4-H isn't just for students interested in agriculture or who live on farms, it hasn't been for decades," said Uncovering the Adventure's Treasures workshop co-director Sorrel Brown, a program evaluator with Iowa State University Extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources. "The leaders are trying to overcome this view by creating more activities and interests geared toward urban students."
Anyone can find an adventure at the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference. For more information, contact Brenda Allen at .
In Iowa, the 4-H program is part of Iowa State University Extension and headquartered on the ISU campus in Ames. For more information about 4-H, how to get involved or how to apply, contact any ISU Extension county office.