Are our youth learning skills needed to become leaders? | Voices for Health


Thanks to the support of the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition and United Way of San Juan County, our community’s young teens will be able to continue to develop essential life skills through the WSU 4-H Challenge Program!

For several years, the Prevention Coalition and San Juan County 4-H Program worked together to ensure this program is both interesting and relative to youth. Even after the 4-H Program and related staff were cut out of the county’s restricted budget in 2009, it was essential to find a way to keep the program going.

When the Challenge Program was still operating through the local County 4-H Program in 2009, we served about 250 youth and parents during afterschool, school enrichment, school vacation week, church and evening family programs.

A team of San Juan Island residents have been trained as WSU Challenge Facilitators and volunteer to bring these activities directly to youth. In addition, a countywide training of the “Building Successful Learning Communities” Workshop was offered last year. This brought the activities directly into the classroom with the help of teachers.

During the Challenge activities, youth participate in tasks that require critical thinking, problem solving, communication, decision-making, goal setting, and commitment. One of the most popular challenges is a two-person activity where you and a partner work together. The goal is to safely guide your partner across a simulated “mine field.” The course has props to be avoided, each representing an unhealthy option that one might encounter during middle or high school. Your partner is blindfolded and depends solely on your trust and clear communication to help them travel safely. After the activity, the group discusses what it was like for everyone to avoid some of life’s more challenging obstacles.

During the Challenges, WSU-trained facilitators create safe environments for youth to work through real-life issues in the context of creative mock-ups. These situations are based on metaphors, using a mobile kit of props. Participants develop skills that support healthy choices and responsible behavior, which ultimately reduces youth substance abuse.

Just this March, the first Youth Leadership Summit was conducted at Friday Harbor Middle School and Friday Harbor High School, during which Challenge activities were integrated to teach leadership skills. In addition, a unique Challenge Program still offered is the Rite of Passage Program. Spring Street International School has now integrated this into its junior class curriculum to help their passage into adulthood.

According to the 2007 MADD Web site, “A person’s brain does not stop developing until his or her early to mid-20s” (http://why21.org).

Through the Prevention Coalition, the Challenge Program continues to be a positive social offering for youth and a comprehensive plan for positive community change.

— Alice Hibberd is coordinator of the Challenge Program.

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