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Ohio State University Extension


Starting a 4-H Teen Leader Group 

Hannah Epley, Assistant Professor, Extension Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, 4-H Camping and Older Youth 
Cassie Anderson, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension, Hancock County 
Christy Clary, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension, Brown County 

The following information is a guide for starting, expanding, or maintaining a teen leader group. Individuals who start a group or would like more assistance, should reach out to the Ohio 4-H teen leadership design team to be involved in the mentorship program. Teen in green shirt talking to two seated teens.

Why Develop a Teen Leadership Group?  

Member retention is something all 4-H professionals must take into consideration especially with older youth who have multiple options on how to spend their time. Gill, Bruce, & Ewing (2010) looked at a teen’s involvement in 4-H related to program offerings. In this study, Gill et al. (2010) saw a decline across all ages of 4-H members, but a drastic decline with older teenage youth; this is consistent with other studies. Gill et al. (2010) used the conceptual framework of McClelland’s motivational theory consisting of three need factors: achievement, affiliation, and power to look at teen involvement in 4-H (McClelland, 1987). Belonging to groups such as a teen leadership group, which provides interaction with peers and adults, can meet a teen’s need for affiliation, while taking on leadership roles within community clubs and county-wide teen opportunities meet the need for power (Gill et al., 2010; Ramey, Lawford, & Vachon, 2017). If youth are involved in decision making, the sense of belonging increases. Additional studies have shown that youth who are involved in leadership roles that include decision making help youth feel empowered and develop valuable life skills, such as critical thinking, empathy, and teamwork (Akiva, Cortina, & Smith, 2014; Larson, Walker, & Pearce, 2005; Ramey et al., 2017; Tomek & Williams, 1999). 

Teens are more likely to be motivated and stay actively involved in organizations when the activities build their own skills (Akiva et al., 2014; Gill et al., 2010). When youth are involved as equal partners stronger communities are created, their motivation for involvement increases, and youth’s own skills are built (Camino, 2005; Larson et al., 2005). It also increases their desire and willingness to act on behalf of others (Akiva et al., 2014). These concepts also align with the Ages and Stages of 4-H Youth Development by meeting the developmental needs of teens (Tomek & Williams, 1999). Teen leadership groups that are strategically designed can meet teens social, intellectual, and emotional needs and help to retain older 4-H members. In addition, the entire county 4-H program is strengthened when youth use their skills within their local clubs, through county involvement, and in the community.  

Getting Started 

Consider the following when determining if you should have a teen leader group. 

What is a teen leader group? 

A teen leader group is a group of teens who meet at the county level for a specific purpose. Typically, it is geared toward leadership development, which includes components related to service, workforce preparation, college preparation, etc. This group may also be called junior leaders, teen leaders, teen council, etc. 

Why have a teen leader program? 

Research has demonstrated the impact of teen leader programs. This includes having an age appropriate program in which teens take on more responsibilities including decision making, planning, and implementation opportunities which further enhances their skills and development.  

It is a chance for teens to give back to their community by recruitment, volunteering at events, or planning and conducting programs at a larger scale. These programs keep teens engaged beyond the community club or project level as they become involved on a larger scale. Additionally, it is an opportunity for teens to plan and implement their own projects, events, and activities at the county level.

Teen leader programs also provide an opportunity for youth and adult partnerships to develop, so both parties work together toward a common goal and have an equal voice.  

What questions should be asked before beginning the process? Is there a need to have a teen leader group?  

The following questions will help guide the decision-making process.  

  • What is the need in the county? (This is like conducting a needs assessment before beginning any large-scale program.)  
  • Are there teens who are interested and available?  
  • Does an adult have the time, energy, and resources to assist teens? 
  • What is the vision of the group? How does this group align with the teens’ vision?  
  • Will the group serve an on-going purpose? Or would it be better served to be activity-based, in which teens simply sign up to attend a project/program? 
  • What will the expectations be of the teens and leaders?  
  • What age level will this group engage? Why?  
  • What is the relationship between youth and adults? How will this potentially change over time?  
  • How will this group strengthen the existing teen programming? 
  • Does the purpose and structure of this group meet the teens’ developmental needs?  
  • Are there other groups that can be modified to meet the county and teens’ developmental needs?
  • Are there groups to partner with in the county? Are there other teen groups in the county outside of 4-H? How will these work together versus compete for membership?  

Once it is determined there is a need for a teen leader program, how is the purpose of the group determined?  

Will the members take projects or is it a group where individuals have a shared interest? 

  • Will the teens have skill development opportunities?  
  • Will the participants focus on community service?  

Refer to the “Sample Ways to Implement” section of this document for additional considerations. The purpose of the group may change as the needs of the county and the youth change. Revisit this when assessing the group’s effectiveness.  

What are the key components to consider when planning the year?   

  • Involve teens in the planning process, so they are invested in what they do throughout the year.

  • Are there other people who should be involved in addition to teens? (Note: adult advisors-must undergo the OSUE volunteer selection process If it is determined additional adults will be involved, consider their experience and what their role will be.

  • Is there a need for money? If so, how are startup funds found? Will there be fundraising efforts? If so, what does the budget look like? If there is money, it is important to note banks typically require adults on the bank account. OSUE employees are not permitted to be a signer on 4-H club or affiliate accounts.

  • What does the teen leadership within the program look like? Is there a need for specific leadership roles? What positions or roles will there be, if any? These might include officers, chairs, and committees.

  • Use the club meeting wheel (Ohio 4-H Volunteer Priority Team, n.d.; available at, to determine how meetings will be designed with business, committee work, program, recreation, and hospitality.

  • Include the essential elements of 4-H when developing the program, including a positive relationship with a caring adult, safe environment, inclusive environment, engagement in learning, opportunity for mastery, opportunity to see oneself as an active participant in the future, opportunity for self-determination, and opportunity to value and practice service to others (4-H National Headquarters, 2011). Consider including safe social opportunities, having shirts or polos, name tags, table tents, and icebreakers or other games.

  • Think about other opportunities where this group can be an asset. This is a great place to recruit teens to help with county-wide leadership opportunities, such as assisting with 4-H recruitment, judging assistance, officer training, etc.  

What are the logistical items to consider?  

  • Frequency of meetings. 
  • Meeting day and time.  
  • Length of meeting. 
  • Meeting location. 
  • Meeting timeline (calendar year versus 4-H year, etc.). 
  • Communication plan to use with the group. 
  • Recruitment of members. 
  • Group membership: is there a selection process or will it be an open membership? If there is a selection process, what is the group size?  
  • When new members can join. 

Does the program meet its objectives? To evaluate the program and the teens involved, some type of reflection and evaluation should be included:  

  • Have an end of year recognition program for members. It can be specified that individuals must complete a predetermined number of events or programs to be considered as completing the program. 
  • Ask teens to complete an evaluation focusing on programs conducted, projects completed, skills enhanced, etc. 
  • Allow for verbal feedback and have teens share their experience. Make sure to keep a record of the conversations. 
  • Use a workforce preparation evaluation (currently under development by Ohio 4-H teen leadership design team members). Four teens standing with their arms around one another. 


The following are two scenarios to consider when establishing a teen leader group. Overall, they are similar in what they offer; the main difference is one requires individuals to complete a project and the other does not. 

Sample 1: The group functions as a 4-H club, and:  

  • Requires members to complete a leadership project, participate in judging, and attend a required number of meetings and events.  
  • Has officers, checking account, EIN, etc. to fulfill community club requirements. 
  • May be the primary club where members are only involved to take projects or may be a secondary club in which members only take leadership projects.
  • Meets on a regularly scheduled basis and includes events and activities. Often, meetings are held a couple hours each month.  
  • Has members join by a specific deadline to meet project and other county 4-H requirements. 
  • May have a recognition program at the end of the year.  

Sample 2: The group functions as a county-wide group, and:  

  • Teens are members of another 4-H community club; this is an additional opportunity for teens to enhance their leadership and other skills.  
  • There is no project completion requirement.  
  • A specified number of meetings or other events may not be required.  
  • There is typically more flexibility when individuals join, but sometimes a separate application or project may be required. 
  • The group will often have officers but may also have chairs or reach group consensus depending on the group size. 
  • These groups typically are registered as an “Affiliate.” If there is handling of funds, there must be a constitution, bylaws, EIN, checking account, etc.  
  • Meetings are based on the needs of the group. Typically, the group will meet a couple hours each month.  
  • Committees may meet outside the regularly scheduled meetings.  
  • The group has service projects, events, and activities outside of scheduled meetings.  
  • They may have a recognition program at the end of the year.  

Continuous Improvement 

Incorporating continuous improvement and meeting the current needs of clientele should be considered when examining the effectiveness and duration of teen leader programs. Evaluate and assess what is being done: How can it be improved? Are the teens engaged? Additionally, incorporate feedback from teens; gauge their interest, impact, and get their input.  
The tools in Making Club Meetings Matter (Boomershine, n.d.) are helpful to use during the assessment. These tools pose questions for clubs to assess important considerations for the volunteers, members, programs, and experiences. The assessment asks if the group has caring adults, creates a welcoming environment, practices service to others, and if members are actively involved in charting the club’s course. Other considerations for clubs include how the group spends its meeting time such as group interactions, components of recreation or social time, education for programs and activities, and the business portion.  

Other Ways to Involve Teens at a County Level 

Having a teen leader group is just one way for youth to be involved at the county level. Additional ways to involve teens may attract a different teen leader audience. A youth advisory board can provide insight and guidance to local needs by sharing a teen’s perspective. Another way is to have youth serve as representatives on 4-H committees, senior fair board, sale committees, or other county-level committees. This enhances youth-adult partnerships and ensures a teen voice is present during conversations.  


These strategies can be adapted to all 4-H programs throughout the nation when starting a new group. Individuals have a sense of belonging and continue participating in programs that create partnerships between youth and adults. This is reinforced when youth have a sense of purpose, ownership, self-efficacy, and the opportunity for coaching within the partnerships. (Anderson & Sandmann, 2009). Youth will be more likely to continue their 4-H membership when they are engaged as a teen leader.  


A series of 20-minute lessons to utilize with teen audiences was developed by Ohio 4-H teen leadership design team members and is available for free download at  


4-H National Headquarters. (2011). Essential elements [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from 

Akiva, T., Cortina, K. S., & Smith, C. (2014). Involving youth in program decision-making: How common and what might it do for youth? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(11), 1844-1860.  

Anderson, K.S., & Sandmann L. (2009). Toward a Model of Empowering Practices in Youth-Adult Partnerships. Journal of Extension 47(2). Retrieved from

Boomershine, B. Making Club Meetings Matter. Retrieved (November 19, 2019) from 

Camino, L. (2005). Pitfalls and promising practices of youth-adult partnerships: An evaluator's reflections. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(1), 75-85.  

Gill, B. E., Bruce, J. A., & Ewing, J. C. (2010). Factors affecting teen involvement in teen involvement in Pennsylvania 4-H programming. Journal of Extension 48(2). Retrieved from 

Larson, R., Walker, K. C., & Pearce, N. (2005) A comparison of youth-driven and adult-driven youth programs: balancing inputs from youth and adults. Journal of Community Psychology, 33, 57-74. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20035 

McClelland, D. C. (1987). Human Motivation. New York, NY: Cambridge.  

Ohio 4-H Volunteer Priority Team (n.d.) The 4-H Club Meeting ‘Wheel’. Retrieved from 

Ramey, H.L., Lawford, H.L., & Vochon, W. (2017). Youth-adult partnerships in work with youth: An overview. Journal of Youth Development 12(4). DOI 10.5195/jyd.2017.520 

Tomek, J., & Williams, M.J. (1999). Ages and stages of 4-H youth development. University of Missouri Extension.

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Originally posted Jul 28, 2020.