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Focus on Civic Engagement

Focus on Civic Engagement

Idaho 4-H youth learn about community service through action and education 

Service to the community has long been one of the hallmarks of 4-H nationwide, and civic engagement continues to be the focus of many successful Idaho programs. Every 4-H club across the state engages in some form of service, from adopting a highway, conducting food drives for local food banks to helping with community events.

“Every club, every kid is involved in service,” said Donna Gillespie, UI Extension regional 4-H youth development educator. “That’s something that’s not really reported back because it’s not a project. But we know it happens and it’s such an important component of 4-H.”

Along with service to the community, 4-H also offers educational programs to teach youth about civic engagement. The annual Know Your Government Conference (KYG) teaches youth about state government and allows participants to interact with the legislative and judicial branches of Idaho government. KYG celebrates its 30th year in 2018.

Another long-running civic engagement project in Idaho is Citizenship Washington Focus (CWF). This program strengthens participants’ communication, leadership and citizenship skills on a national level to help them understand the importance of civic and social responsibilities as they relate to the development of better citizens and leaders.

Every three years since 1962, a contingent of Idaho 4-H youth from Nez Perce County have traveled to Washington, D.C., at the culmination of the project to see how the government operates firsthand.

Nez Perce County CWF volunteer Art King first became involved in the program in 2000 when his two sons were taking the project. He became project volunteer in 2006 and continues to volunteer even though his children have graduated from membership.

“I am so passionate about this program and the need to educate our kids and get them involved in the process that I’ve continued going even after my children were finished,” King said. “There are just so many good, positive parts to this program. That’s why I’ve been doing it.”

CWF is offered on a yearly basis; however, participants must make a large financial investment to attend. To ease the financial burden, Nez Perce County has turned CWF into a three-year program. Over the three years, participants meet monthly to learn about the civic process from city council up to the federal government. They also participate in fundraisers several times per year to save money for the trip to Washington, D.C., and complete a community service project.

“They learn and begin to understand the importance of being involved,” King said. “Not everyone is going to be president of the United States. Not everyone is going to be on a city council. But participate at some level, even if that is just going out to vote. Pay attention to what is going on in your community, in your state and in your country.”

During the Washington, D.C., trip, delegates tour monuments and museums and attend meetings with representatives on Capitol Hill.

“We sit in the galleries and watch the proceedings on the floor,” King said. “I know you can go to C-SPAN and see the same thing, but it’s nothing like sitting there in person.”

King noted that participants often return to school after their trip with a new appreciation and knowledge of the civic process.

“Almost anyone you talk to who has gone on this trip, it makes school more interesting and they do better in their history and government classes because they can relate much more closely to the content the teacher is trying to get across to them,” King said.

The next delegation is scheduled to travel to D.C. in 2018 and will include 33 delegates — 24 from Nez Perce County, three from Latah County and seven from Idaho County.

“I cannot think of a better investment than educating our kids to be part of the process,” King said “We’ve got to get not only kids, but everybody to pay attention to what is happening and understand that they can have an impact on how our government operates.

“If everyone sits back and waits for everyone else to do things, nothing will get done. You’ve got to get involved at some level in community development, community activities and public service of some nature.”

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University of Idaho Extension

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Barbara Petty