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Oct. 10, 2008

Brenda Allen

This 4-H'er helps youth learn to lead

by Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations

4-H taught a young Brenda Allen to be a leader and now, as a youth development specialist with the state 4-H staff, she focuses on governance and leadership.

Working out of the Extension 4-H Youth Building on the north side of campus, she advises the state 4-H Youth Council and coordinates the Iowa 4-H youth conference. She also plans the national 4-H conference and national 4-H congress trips for Iowa 4-H youth, heads up the state 4-H youth recognition and awards process, and advises ISU's collegiate 4-H'ers.

Let them contribute

Youth in governance is a continuum, Allen said, from adults doing everything with no youth involvement to the opposite extreme of youth doing everything alone with no adult support.

"A lot of times, people want to do good things for young people," Allen said. "One of my missions is to help adults understand that one of the best things you can do for young people is to not see them as objects. Instead, recognize that they have ideas, strengths and abilities to contribute."

In other words, adults are taking the wrong approach when they plan the junior high lock-in rather than asking youth for input, or when they form an adult task force to prevent youth vandalism without including youth on the committee.

"Our youth shouldn't just be recipients of programs we provide; they should be involved in the planning," Allen said, "and we can help prepare them for these opportunities. In 4-H youth development, we help youth build their communication, leadership and citizenship skills -- and help them really discover their potential."

Allen added, "We do try to practice what we preach."

Representatives from collegiate 4-H and the 4-H state youth council serve with state staff on the state 4-H youth development leadership team.

4-H for college students

ISU collegiate 4-H is a student organization funded by the Government of the Student Body. Most of the members are former 4-H'ers, but that's not a prerequisite. The group focuses on citizenship and leadership activities and is an avenue for former 4-H'ers and other young people who want to get involved at Iowa State, Allen said.

"We have done everything from participating in Veishea service projects, to going to local nursing homes, to helping with 4-H or other community service projects," Allen said.

"The officer team takes the lead. I serve as a sounding board and support for the activities the students pursue," she added.

4-H'ers are leaders

Some people have misconceptions about 4-H, Allen noted. "I think some people still have the perspective that 4-H is about cows and cookies; that you have to raise livestock or do things that are very traditional. But these are simply avenues that 4-H'ers use to learn -- along with aerospace, ecology, robotics and more.

"4-H'ers are leaders," Allen said. "I think 4-H'ers are some of the most involved people in their communities because of the service opportunities and the chances to develop their leadership and communication skills that 4-H provides."

She added, "Iowa's young people are assets today, not just something we are developing for the future. Look at them right now -- they can make an impact on their communities if they're given a voice."

Taking 4-H to China

Employees from China's Longping High Tech Agriculture Co. came to Iowa State last summer for American English and management training, and to learn how they could apply extension concepts to their company structure. While they were here, they became intrigued with ISU Extension's 4-H program for building youth leadership. So in December, Allen and other ISU Extension representatives will travel to China to talk about developing a 4-H-like program that meets the needs of Chinese youth.

Longping is interested in sending youth to the Iowa 4-H Center for a camp experience, intensive English study and leadership activities.

"We will be doing orientation on what young people can expect by coming to camp here next summer," Allen said. "We'll also talk to the business leaders at Longping about what is involved, in terms of long-term structure, to get a 4-H program started in China."


Oct. 5-11 is national 4-H Week

A few facts about 4-H in Iowa:

  • Iowa 4-H is headquartered at Iowa State. 4-H Youth Development takes research-based information from the nation's land-grant universities to youth in all 50 states and more than 80 countries.
  • One quarter of Iowa's young people are involved in 4-H; they can get involved as early as kindergarten.
  • 4-H staff estimate that in the entering ISU freshman class each fall, about 300 are past 4-H members.

For more information, contact your ISU Extension county office or go online.

Her roots in 4-H go deep

Whether she's taking a group of 4-H teens to Washington, D.C., or selling raffle tickets for the Iowa 4-H Foundation's Ford pickup, Brenda Allen pledges her head to clearer thinking, her heart to greater loyalty, her hands to larger service and her health to better living. She lives the 4-H pledge along with nearly 118,000 Iowa youth, more than 10,000 adult volunteers and her colleagues in ISU Extension 4-H youth development.

Her 4-H roots reach back to her 10-year membership in Poweshiek County's Jackson Busy Bees 4-H Club. Her mother also was a youth development field specialist, working 25 years with Iowa 4-H.

"I definitely grew up with 4-H," Allen said, "and all the things I started working with in this position are things I participated in as a 4-H'er."

State 4-H Youth Council? Been there. 4-H citizenship trip to Washington, D.C.? Done that. Her experience as a 4-H'er also included camp at the Iowa 4-H Center, the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference, a trip to Norway through 4-H Youth Exchange and a whole lot more.