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Extension > Extension in your Community > Mille-lacs > 4-H > Articles > Notes from Minnesota 4-H director Jennifer A. Skuza

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Notes from Minnesota 4-H director Jennifer A. Skuza

Jennifer Skuza photo

Dear 4-H youth, families and volunteers,

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has physically separated us for months, we have been unified in spirit and commitment to the thriving of our youth and communities. Through mailed project kits, live and on-demand video learning sessions, and critical community service throughout the state, 4-H educators, volunteers and families have demonstrated persistence, resilience and creativity.

Reintroducing in-person programming

I am pleased to let you know that Minnesota 4-H now has permission from the University of Minnesota to reintroduce a number of in-person learning experiences. This includes 4-H club and small group activities related to learning, leadership, and service.

This is not “back to normal.” We cannot return to exactly what we were doing before COVID-19. How we gather will look and feel different. Our staff is ready to lead this transition, and to help volunteers and supporters make the adjustments necessary. Our priority remains ensuring safe and high quality experiences for Minnesota young people.

Required training for 4-H volunteers

We have created a quick, on-demand training that volunteers must complete before planning and hosting 4-H youth gatherings. Volunteers may also join us on Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m. for a real-time discussion on resuming in-person programs. Pre-registration is required.

Reflecting 4-H values

The safety protocols we will use to gather are a reflection of our 4-H values. As we pledge our hands to larger service, we have a social responsibility to act for the benefit of society at large. All of us play an important role in stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we can use the pandemic to help young people explore what it means to be good citizens.

Virtual 4-H programming will remain available

4-H youth participation has been strong. Youth from every part of our state have participated in and enjoyed virtual learning experiences in engineering, agronomy, leadership, photography, global citizenship and more. This summer we’re expanding our programs to include performing arts at home, water conservation, polymer science, outdoor adventures and many others. No matter where youth live, they are welcome to learn, lead and make a difference with 4-H.

Plan on joining our state and local showcases

We have a variety of showcases planned for 4-H youth that will offer high-quality judging in safe and supportive environments. COVID-19 has changed how showcases can look and feel this summer, but we know that the growth youth experience from sharing their learning with others remains.

Local showcases are being offered based on safety and capacity to deliver. Please check with your 4-H educator for additional information.

If a young person in your household or club (grade 6+) earned a blue ribbon at a local showcase this summer, they are eligible to participate in our virtual statewide showcases. Please watch for registration information from your local 4-H educator.

4-H eligibility

Minnesota youth are eligible to participate in 4-H from kindergarten through one year past high school. Some people have asked about extending a year of eligibility for 4-H’ers because of the unique nature of 2020 programs and showcases. This was given strong consideration at the national and multi-state level. The decision was made that 4-H events will follow existing age requirements and another year of eligibility will not be granted. Minnesota 4-H will follow that policy.

Changing the policy would set an unsustainable precedent for youth participation for years to come. It would create increased unfairness when considering competitive events with the cascading impact of those who would have aged out ‘taking’ spots of current youth down the line. I recognize that COVID-19 has created a lot of hardship for everyone. We can help youth navigate loss and understand that sometimes things happen that we cannot control. I am confident in the resiliency of youth and their ability to adapt to this difficult situation. Like you, I have been witnessing their strength every day of this pandemic.

Committed to our partnership

We are so grateful to be your partners. We could not have been so effective in adapting to the unique needs and realities of this time without your support. Thank you for your commitment to help Minnesota youth stay safe and thrive.

Dr. Jennifer A. Skuza
Associate dean & state 4-H director
Extension Center for Youth Development