4-H Grows #3: Councils
Florida 4-H Standards and Expectations says that each county should have a County 4-H Council and participate in District Council. Beyond the fact that it is expected, it’s important as a youth development tool, and for the growth of your program.
The official purpose of the Council system (County-District-State) as written in A GUIDE TO THE FLORIDA 4-H COUNCIL is:
County Council: Through the Council’s activities the interests and concerns of young people can be voiced and incorporated into the Program’s goals. Participation in a 4-H Council provides the means for the personal growth of 4-H members through citizenship and leadership activities.
District Council: Assisting with organizing and conducting district activities and events and facilitating the distribution of information from the district and state councils to the county councils
Beyond that though Councils give an opportunity for advanced skill development and mastery in the areas of citizenship and leadership, provide youth voice for the county (or district program), and assists in senior 4-H member retention by giving young people more impactful opportunities beyond what they might experience at the club level.
How is Your Council?
How well is your County Council and District Council currently functioning? Things to think about:
- On the county level are you taking a County Council (representatives from each club) or Teen Council (senior level members throughout the county) approach? Either is acceptable and each have different benefits. A County Council approach will give you a true representative body of the clubs in the county, but sometimes counties struggle with obtaining a quorum at meetings. A Teen Council approach allows you to focus on higher level (senior-age) skills, and research says that older members appreciate some age-segregated opportunities where they can just be teens.
- Who is leading your Council (County or District)? Is It you? Another agent or program assistant? A well-trained volunteer? Any situation is acceptable if it works for you and your county.
- How are you recruiting members for your council? Have you considered talking to your local Guidance Counselors and asking them to recommend youth who are possibly looking for community service hours, or the particular skill development your Council is offering? Do you have an “Open House” in which potential members can try out your Council before committing to join? How about offering some sort of award or recognition for the current member who brings in the most new members? For more ideas, check out: 100s of Membership Recruitment Ideas and Membership Building Ideas for Your Club.
- How will you use your Council to help grow and improve your 4-H program and you as a professional? Will the membership represent teen volunteers you can use for the good of your program? Will they market your program? Will you use District Council as an opportunity for the agents of your district to collaborate and engage in professional development together?
- How will you set annual goals for your Council? Think about the Youth-Adult Relationship Continuum. You probably have heard of “Youth-Adult Partnerships” but realize this is not the only way. Realize that if your Council is very new, you may have to be more adult driven, with the sincere intention of moving to more of a youth-led group as these youth gain the appropriate skills. A new Council likely doesn’t have all the tools they need to set their own goals without adult assistance, whereas a long existing group may need little adult input.
- Does your Council set the model for all club programs in the county?
- Is your Constitution and Bylaws up to date, and does your membership understand them? 4-H Club Bylaws . Update these on an annual basis. During annual Council Officer training might be a great time.
- Speaking of officer training, are your officers trained? A great model may be you train your Council Officers and they in turn conduct Club Officer Training. Check out Florida 4-H Officer Training tools at: Florida 4-H Officer Training
- Do all of your meetings include recreation, business meeting, and an educational program?
- Like club meetings, Council meetings should include an educational program (50% of the total meeting time). Ask your youth what they want to learn about, and be sure to consult the Curriculum Clearinghouse as a jump start for ideas.
- Is your annual plan of activities for the year set before the year actually begins? Kids are busy, parents are busy- they should have all meeting dates and plans by September 1 so they can commit. Check out: Florida 4-H Club Planning for a calendar template.
Does Your Council Need Work?
If your Council needs work, that is something to consider before growing your program with new offerings. A strong Council system is critical to the health of a county 4-H program. You can’t improve everything at once, but if your Council needs work you will need to decide if it’s the biggest need, and if not- how soon will you be able to consider this need?