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“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” This is the pledge that youth take when they join 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization. The Institute on Community Integration (ICI) is working with 4-H in Minnesota to build on this pledge through a project that brings together youth with and without disabilities as partners in improving their communities through inclusive service learning.
The project, titled, “Together We Make a Difference: Inclusive Service Learning as Part of 4-H Youth Development Programs,” is centered on use of the Together We Make a Difference curriculum developed at ICI. This curriculum, which was created several years ago with support from the National Inclusion Project (formerly known as the Bubel Aiken Foundation), equips teachers and youth leaders with research-based activities that help youth with and without disabilities become partners in planning and carrying out service learning projects while learning social and life skills, meeting education standards in a variety of academic areas, and challenging stereotypes about young people with disabilities.
In this new work with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development, which operates the state’s 4-H program, the curriculum is being used with high school youth with and without disabilities who are at-risk of dropping out of school and disengaging from their communities. The goal is to instill hope, a sense of purpose, self-confidence, and a positive vision of the future in these youth through their participation in a year-long inclusive service learning experience delivered through four 4-H clubs in Ramsey and Anoka counties.
“This project offers these at-risk youth with and without disabilities the opportunity to take an active role in making their communities better places to live as they also develop a stronger sense of self-determination, gain a better understanding of their own and others’ strengths and abilities, improve their academic performance, and increase their leadership skills,” says project director Brian Abery. “Because these students experience personal challenges, their capacity to contribute can often be overlooked. But if given the opportunity, they can make a positive difference in their communities. For example, one club is addressing homelessness and recently spoke to homeless people in a nearby shelter to learn how they can make a difference; another is addressing pollution from farms and homes on a local lake, researching lake ecology and interviewing farmers and people living around the lake to gain additional insights.”
This project also lays a foundation for an ongoing partnership between ICI, Extension, and 4-H as they offer opportunities for youth with and without disabilities to become successful learners and leaders. The one-year project began July 1, 2012 and is funded by a $38,000 grant from the University’s College of Education and Human Development and from Extension. The project leadership team includes Jessica Russo, University of Minnesota Extension Urban Youth Development Office; Anna Gilbertson, Anoka County 4-H Youth Development; and Renáta Tichá of ICI, in addition to Brian.
FFI, contact Renáta at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-624-5776.