Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA6

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Helping Participants Complete What They Start


Diane H. Scott
College of Human Ecology
Louisiana Tech University-Ruston

Virginia L. Clark
Head, Consumer Affairs and Home Economics Education
South Dakota State University-Brookings

Shirley Reagan
College of Human Ecology
Louisiana Tech University-Ruston

It seems to be easier for people to start things than complete them. Farmers only partially adopt many innovations. Families begin nutritional changes, but have trouble seeing them through. Communities begin a development process, but many lose energy and interest along the way and the process languishes.

The habit of seeing things through to the end most likely begins in childhood, so it's particularly important to understand factors that affect completion of 4-H projects. Many youth complete none of the projects they select, while other youth may complete one or more. An analysis of reasons for project completion in one project can provide useful information for leaders and agents in other project and program areas.

This study was designed to identify factors that influenced 4-H clothing project completion. Literature was reviewed and discussions were held with 4-H agents and members not involved in the study to identify potential influencing factors. Factors selected for study were socioeconomic factors, parental encouragement, role models, leadership, learning style, awareness, personal characteristics, and incentives. Information from this study may prove helpful to agents and leaders in promoting project completion for a variety of Extension efforts.

Study of 4-H Members

Data were obtained through the use of a researcher-developed questionnaire administered during October 4-H Club meetings. 4-H members enrolled in the clothing project during the previous year participated in the study. Ages of these 4-Hers ranged from 9 to19 years. Eighty-five questionnaires were collected. Most of the respondents were female (96%). The analysis was based on 83 usable questionnaires.1

Respondents answered three questions that indicated the degree to which they'd completed the clothing project. Although 55% (46) of the total respondents had made at least one garment, only 39% (32) had entered a garment in a contest, and 22% (18) had completed a record book.

A Spearman's correlation was used to determine the effect of the selected factors on project completion. Socioeconomic factors, learning style, and personal characteristics didn't prove to be significant influences in clothing project completion.

Parental Encouragement and Role Models

Parental encouragement (p<0.01) and role models (p<0.01) were both highly significant factors affecting project completion. Of the 83 youth studied, 48% were encouraged to complete a project by parents, and 69% had been praised by parents for doing a good job. The study showed a positive relationship to Weber and McCullers' findings that parental involvement is critical for programming success.2 However, only 10% of the respondents indicated a parent was a leader of a youth organization.

Role models tend to be a strong influence on youth. Respondents indicated that 58% had friends who sewed, 63% had mothers who sewed, and 71% had grandmothers who sewed. A study by Koontz3 indicated that the largest number of adolescents first learned to sew from their mothers or the public school. Those who learned from their mothers were more likely to continue sewing.


Leadership also proved to be highly significant in clothing project completion (p<0.01). Local leaders were reported helpful to project completion by 47% of the youth. A higher percentage (69%) reported that the 4-H agent was helpful in project completion. Because agents and leaders work with large numbers of youth, they can't always know when a member needs help with a project. Flood stated that a leader's lack of followers is due to lack of leadership; therefore, a concentrated effort should be made to encourage youth to contact the local leader or 4-H agent when they need help with projects.4

Awareness and Incentives

Youth who were more aware of 4-H clothing opportunities were more likely to meet one of the three completion criteria (p<0.01). A variety of mechanisms were used to inform participants, but not all reported knowing about opportunities.

Incentives proved to be significantly correlated with project completion (p<0.04). Rewards ranging from praise to ribbons to scholarships are used in 4-H to motivate young people to reach their full potential. An incentive for 83% of the respondents was being able to sew like other people they knew. Another incentive for 69% was receiving praise from parents for a job well done.

Supporting Research

Youth research supports the findings of this study. Jenson found that parental encouragement seemed to be the most potent reason for joining 4-H.5 A companion study by Weber and McCullers found that 4-H professionals selected parental involvement as the item needing most emphasis in 4-H programming.6 Whether parents or other adults serve as leaders, the need exists for more leader training and active involvement with club members. Stephens found that the three major reasons for failure of youth groups were absence of a leader, lack of commitment, and need for leader support.7 Studies by Coward8 and Culbert9 showed that publicity and awareness can also affect participation. Both studies showed that members were unaware of the opportunities available. Once members decide to participate in an activity, leaders and agents must understand the recognition members are seeking through participation. Adults need competence in effectively using incentives and recognition when working with youth.10


Since specific factors influence project completion among 4-H youth, intervention by Extension agents and parents can increase the success of 4-H projects. Educating parents about their influence on the level of achievement reached by their children in 4-H projects can lead to more youth participation and completion of projects. Involvement of parents as leaders is an ideal way to increase awareness of the 4-H program.

The study pointed out that a higher percentage of youth depended on their 4-H agent for help in project completion rather than their local leader. Ideally, local leaders help youth to complete projects so that agents have more time to train leaders, thereby creating more leaders to help with project completion. Therefore, special efforts must be made to find people genuinely concerned with leading the 4-H youth in projects and helping youth understand the leader's purpose is to help with projects.

Ample evidence exists that members sign up for the clothing project to develop their sewing skills. They view learning to sew and receiving praise from their parents as incentives. However, they discover the project also includes competition and record keeping that may not be strong incentives for project completion. Perhaps projects could be modified to emphasize doing rather than evaluating and competing. In any case, all goals should be identified in the presentation of projects to potential 4-H members.

For Extension in general, this study indicates the continuing importance of attention to factors that encourage and support clientele in completing and following through on what they start. What young people learn about seeing things through to the end will affect what they do as adults.


1. The statement: "When I enrolled in 4-H, I did not intend to complete a project. I only wanted to get out of class" was checked by two respondents. All other responses checked by those respondents would have made the study unreliable; therefore, their questionnaires were eliminated from the study, leaving 83 respondents in the study.

2. J. A. Weber and J. C. McCullers, "The Blue Ribbon: An American Way of Life," Journal of Extension, XXIV (Fall 1986), 20 -22.

3. P. Koontz, "Public School Sewing Instruction Turns Students Off," Illinois Teacher, XXVIII (May/June 1985), 208-09.

4. D. E. Flood, "I Am a Leader! The Idiots Won't Follow!" (Paper presented to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, Denver, 1985).

5. G. Jenson and others, "4-H Winners: What Do We Know About Them!" Journal of Extension, XX (January/February 1982), 13-17.

6. Weber and McCullers, "The Blue Ribbon."

7. W. Stephens, "Explanations for Failures of Youth Organizations" (Nova Scotia, Canada: Research Report, 1983).

8. R. Coward, "Greater Awareness-Extension's Key to Program Success," Journal of Extension, XVI (September/October 1978), 11- 17.

9. D. Culbert, Factors Contributing to Nonreenrollment of 4-H Club Members in Southeastern Florida (Master's thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, 1983).

10. K. Treat and others, "Competencies Needed by 4-H" (Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 1975).