Those affiliated with 4-H are familiar with the 4-H pledge, but few realize that the four “H’s” are tied to the four essential elements of 4-H youth development. These essential elements are defined by the basic needs and competencies of youth: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. While, the 4-H program seeks to address all essential elements, one that is of particular importance is that of belonging. So, what is belonging? How is it part of the 4-H program?
Belonging involves a positive relationship with a caring adult. Youth work with trained volunteer leaders of 4-H clubs, involved teachers in the 4-H in the Classroom program and interested camp staff.
Belonging also means an inclusive environment. Youth are made to feel part of the group. Youth are offered positive and specific feedback and groups celebrate the success of all members, taking pride in the collective efforts of everyone.
A safe environment also contributes to belonging. Safe environments are achieved in 4-H through background screenings of volunteers working with youth, the correct ratio of youth and adults at events and activities and meeting space that is secure.
Youth whose need for belonging is met in positive ways are loving, attached and trusting. These youth are also friendly, social and cooperative. They are able to form healthy relationships with others.
Belonging is looked at as the single most powerful positive ingredient that can be added to the lives of youth. In 4-H we strive to make all youth feel as though they belong.