Utah 4-H mentoring program spreads nationwide, benefits from $9.8M grant renewal

Youth and Families with Promise members, location and date unspecified |Photo courtesy of Tommy Gugino, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — A 4-H mentoring program that started in Iron County in 1994 has spread across the nation with the help of five years federal funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention — funding that has recently been renewed for another year.

The grant, now $9.8 million, was awarded to the 4-H national council in support of three programs, one being Youth and Families with Promise that started in Iron county.

Under the program, students from Southern Utah University and Utah State University Extension serve as mentors helping at-risk youth, ages 10-14, and their families with hands-on learning experiences to help them achieve higher levels of academic and social competency.

Most mentoring programs experience a lifespan of five years or less,” said Sage Platt, director of the Speech and Presentation Center at SUU and one of the founding figures behind Youth and Families with Promise. “The fact that we have received such a generous grant renewal manifests not only the high esteem in which the government has come to hold us but also the enormous amount of sacrifice and commitment exhibited by our student mentors.  None of this would have been possible without them.”

How it started

SUU began the Youth and Families program in 1994 after a communitywide survey proposed by local leaders revealed such a program could benefit youth in the area. SUU’s psychology department partnered with Utah State University, SUU’s release said, and formed what was initially a capstone project for students.

The program was initially administered by USU’s Iron County Extension office, according to USU Extension’s program Web page, with support from state extension specialists and internal funds from USU.

Then, five years ago, the Office of Juvenile Justice invited program proposals for grant money. The 4-H national council – the largest youth development organization in the U.S. according to its website – responded with three program recommendations for replication nationwide. One of those was the Youth and Families program.

Juvenile Justice took notice of the program’s success in Iron County, the SUU release said, and issued its first grant to what would officially become Youth and Families with Promise. The program evolved and eventually moved its base of operations north to USU.

The level of federal funding was little more than $1 million at first but increased to $3 million the following year. In 2014, $9.8 million was granted 4-H for its three national programs, the SUU release said, noting the amount is a substantial sum by any standard.

The general trend would suggest, SUU’s release said, that the Youth and Families program would be turned back to local communities for sustainability after five years of federal funding. However, shortly after the 4-H national council’s application this year, the grant benefitting Youth and Families was again renewed.

“It is clear that the students’ hard work and dedication have paid off,” the SUU news release said.

Program growth

Today, Youth and Families with Promise operates program sites across 43 states and enjoys full membership in the 4-H national council as part of the Office of Juvenile Justice’s mentoring funding program. SUU students are signed up as mentors by the Iron County extension office of USU and run local mentoring sites under USU’s direction.

“The Office of Juvenile Justice has seen the value in what mentors can do for youth and their families,” Platt said. “It is a real feather in the cap(s) of SUU students, whose involvement from 1994 onward has influenced so many lives for good.”

In January 2016, Platt will join the 4-H national council and the USU Youth 4-H director in the District of Columbia. There they will conduct live training on elements of youth development ranging from how to create a successful mentoring program to how to recruit new participants.

Platt also runs monthly online director training. This month’s training covers how mentors and staff can develop positive relationships with program participants – relationships that increase the likelihood of early self-disclosure on bullying, suicidal thoughts and other challenges faced by young people.

 

Through the years, hundreds, if not thousands, of college students nationwide have participated in Youth and Families with Promise. With the new funding approved, students will continue to play a key role in helping the program expand its family-oriented, community-building initiatives.

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