August 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Building an Asset-based Program for 4-H

The aim of this study is two-fold: (a) to identify strong and weak assets of youth in Duval County 4-H; and (b) to design an asset-based programming focus. The data for this study were collected through a survey administered to 151 4-H'ers from eleven 4-H clubs in Duval County. Using the Search Institute's Attitudes and Behaviors survey, baseline information about assets was analyzed to provide direction for programming. Implications from this study are discussed in terms of creating positive youth development programs that focus on increasing the assets of young people.

Daniel F. Perkins
Assistant Professor
Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida
Internet address:

Judith R. Butterfield
4-H County Faculty
Duval County
Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Jacksonville, Florida

"In our desire to rear healthy productive youth, our policies and actions should not be restricted to prevention or cures but should include cultivating skills and meeting needs" (Pittman & Cahill, 1992).

4-H youth development programs have a long and successful history of enhancing the lives of the youth they serve. 4-H programs can be categorized as prevention programs, that is, they are designed to help keep young people from engaging in risky, health-compromising behavior. However, 4-H is more than prevention; it embraces positive youth development. 4-H is designed to help young people develop the kinds of skills needed to make positive, healthy decisions, now and in the future.

Problem-free youth are not necessarily fully prepared youth. Addressing problems facing youth (alcohol and substance abuse, antisocial behavior, early sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy) requires an emphasis on positive youth development strategies as well as problem prevention and intervention strategies (Perkins, Haas, & Keith, 1997). Both human and capital investments, must be made to create opportunities for youth to expand their own capacities as they journey to adulthood, and to prepare them to be productive citizens in the next millennium.

The aim of this article is to examine the assets of youth in Duval County 4-H (the city of Jacksonville, Florida). This article presents a composite look at the attitudes and behaviors of these youth and presents a plan for programming in Duval County 4-H to help youth develop assets reported as being low.

Sample Characteristics

The data for this study were gathered from a survey administered to 4-H'ers in Duval County. The survey instrument was developed using the Search Institute's Attitudes and Behaviors Survey (Benson, 1990) and a specialized 4-H survey. In order to maximize the sample size, clubs with ten or more members were targeted for this study. A total of 167 youth from eleven 4-H clubs completed surveys. Of these, 151 surveys were suitable for analysis. The other sixteen surveys were considered invalid because they were missing too much information or had a high score on the lie assessment scale within the survey.

Overall the respondents consisted of slightly more females (52%) than males (48%). The majority of the youth sampled were seventh graders (35%), followed by tenth (27%), sixth (20%), and eighth graders (18%). It is important to note that ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders were combined into the tenth grade category to create an adequate size category for statistical analyses. The respondents included European American youth (66%), African American youth(22%), multi-racial youth (9%), Hispanic youth (3%), and American Indian youth (1%).

Three quarters of the youth were from the suburbs of Jacksonville while 25% were from the inner city. Twenty-five percent of youth were home schoolers and 25% were part of Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Youth who completed this study had been involved with 4-H for over two years.

For approximately one-third of youth who completed the survey, 4-H was their only activity; that is, they were not involved in any after-school clubs, sports programs, or religious groups. Nineteen percent of the youth involved in 4-H were also involved in both after-school clubs and sports programs. Some youth were involved in 4-H and sports programs (18%) while others were involved in 4-H and after-school clubs (11%). Twenty-eight percent of the youth did not answer that question. However, these results indicate the importance of 4-H as the only activity for 33% of this sample.

Importance of Adults: We All Need to Respond

In addition to positive relationships with their parents, youth need positive relationships with other adults. Numerous "resiliency" studies (Bogenschnieder & Olson, 1998; Seita, 1994; Werner & Smith, 1992) have demonstrated that one key factor in a youth's life is a supportive, mentoring relationship with a non-related adult, such as a volunteer leader from a youth development program like 4-H.

Fifty-three percent of the responding 4-H'ers in Duval County reported support from three or more non-parental adults. In 4-H clubs, youth have the opportunity to interact positively with adult leaders. Indeed, the majority of youth in this study reported that adults in their 4-H club make them feel important (65%) and listen to them (64%). In addition, most youth reported that their volunteer leader does pay attention to them (74%).

Thus, youth involved in Duval County 4-H report that at least one adult, their 4-H leader, who cares about them. Positive youth development is most likely to occur in settings that provide an atmosphere of caring and nurturance. According to this data, then, 4-H clubs are providing a setting that is caring and nurturing.

However, fewer than half the youth (43%) reported having a conversation with a 4-H adult that lasted 10 minutes or more. Only 32% of the youth reported having two or more conversations with a 4-H adult for 10 minutes or more. Similarly, 43% of the youth reported feeling comfortable talking to their 4-H leader about an important issue. According to this finding, 4-H youth do not converse with their 4-H leaders as much as might be expected or hoped. Thus, volunteer training may need to spend more time emphasizing the importance of adult-youth conversations.


Assets are factors promoting positive youth development. The asset-based approach is grounded in the literature on "risk and resiliency." Several factors within this literature appear to protect young people from experiencing severe, long-term damage as a result of adverse conditions (Benard, 1991; Blyth, 1993; Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995; Keith & Perkins, 1995; Lerner, 1995; Rutter, 1987; Werner & Smith, 1992). These assets may result from "external" factors such as positive relationships in families, friendship groups, schools, and the community, or they may result from "internal" factors reflecting the teenager's convictions, values, and attitudes (Benson, 1990).

The assets, as presented in Tables 1 and 2, can equip adolescents to make wise choices. Among surveyed 4-Hers in Duval County, some assets are encouragingly common; 75% or more reported having family support, religious community (constructive use of time category), integrity, and positive view of personal future (see Tables 1 and 2). In general, a higher percentage of Duval County 4-Hers report possessing each asset than did youth from the Search Institute sample. The Search Institute sample includes over 100,000 youth surveyed from 213 community across the United States. While the samples are comparable, the Duval County sample is proportionally more ethnically diverse than the Search Institute sample.

Table 1
Internal Assets for Youth from Duval County and Search Institute
Asset Type, Asset Name, and Definition Duval County
Search Institute
Achievement motivation
Young person is motivated to do well in school 66 63
Young person is actively engaged in learning 61 64
Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every day 33 45
Bonding to school
Young person cares about her or his school. 58 51
Reading for pleasure
Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week 38 24
Positive caring
Young person places high value on helping others 58 43
Equality and social justice
Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty 59 45
Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs 79 63
Young person "tells the truth even when it is not easy." 65 63
Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility. 69 60
Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or drugs 67 42
Social planning and decision making
Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices 25 29
Interpersonal competence
Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and 51 43
Cultural competence
Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds 37 35
Resistance skills
Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations 41 37
Peaceful conflict resolution
Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently 40 44
Positive Personal power
Young person feels he or she has control over "things" 42 45
Identity to me (self-esteem)
Young person reports having a high self-esteem 62 47
Sense of purpose
Young person reports that my life has a purpose 68 55
Positive view of personal future
Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future 79 70

Table 2
External Assets for Youth from Duval County and Search Institute
Asset Type, Asset Name, and Definition Duval County Search Institute
Family support
Family life provides high levels of love and support 77 36
Positive family communication
Young person and her of his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parent(s) 53 50
Other adult relationships
Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults 44 41
Caring neighborhood
Young person experiences caring neighbors 64 26
Caring school climate
School provides a caring, encouraging environment 41 40
Parent involvement in schooling
Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school 24 29
Community values youth
Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth 37 32
Youth as resources
Young people are given useful roles in the community 62 42
Services to others
Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week 20 24
Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood 50 55
Family boundaries
Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person's whereabouts 45 69
School boundaries
Schools provides clear rules and consequences 60 29
Neighborhood boundaries
Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people's behavior 74 72
Adult role models
Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior 43 46
Positive peer influence
Young person's best friend models responsible behavior 46 27
High expectations
Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well 60 41
Creative activities
Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts 28 74
Youth Programs
Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs or organizations at school and/or in the community 80 63
Religious community
Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution 19 59
Time at home
Young person is out with friends "with nothing special to do" two or fewer nights per week 64 50

However, fewer 4-H youth in Duval County reported feeling safe than did youth from the Search Institute study (42% and 55%, respectively). Compared to youth from the Search Institute study, fewer 4-H youth in Duval County reported planning and decision-making skills, peaceful conflict resolution skills, and personal power. Moreover, other assets are alarmingly rare among Duval County 4-H'ers. For example, 30% or fewer reported engaging in creative activities and having planning and decision-making skills. As youth get older and face tougher choices, the number of assets tends to decrease in all the categories except the external asset category of constructive time use.

The average 4-H respondent in Duval County reported 53% of the external assets and 55% of the internal assets. On average, 4-H'ers in Duval County had 22 of the 40 assets. This average is higher than the average for the large sample of youth (18 of the 40 assets) collected by Search Institute.

Programming Response

Educational youth development programs like 4-H have a three-fold focus: (a) to afford youth interactions with positive adult role models, (b) to provide youth opportunities to build the skills and competencies necessary for them to be productive, contributing members of society, and, thus, (c) to prevent youth from engaging in problem behaviors. This investigation furnishes important information about assets that provide direction for future programming. Generally, Duval County 4-H youth are doing well in most asset categories. However as noted earlier, one category, social competencies, contains the lowest number of reported assets among the Duval County 4-H youth surveyed. As such, specific programming is needed to provide 4-H'ers opportunities to build and enhance their social competencies.

In order to address this issue, 4-H in Duval County has developed and is currently piloting an asset-building program within four clubs. Three assets from the social competency category (such as, decision-making, cultural competency, and peaceful conflict resolution skills) will be targeted in a club curriculum. Within the curriculum are brief learning sessions and experiential activities designed to afford youth opportunities to learn about and build their decision-making skills, peaceful resolution skills, and cultural competencies.

The county 4-H faculty are providing training and technical assistance to the adult leaders within the participating clubs. There are ten learning sessions that are being conducted in each club over a five-month period (February 1998-July 1998). An evaluation of the program is being conducted to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum in increasing these particular assets. The evaluation design consists of a brief paper-and-pencil instrument to be conducted as a pretest, post-test, and as a six-month follow-up. A comparison group, comprised of 4-Hers in a Duval County 4-H club that is not implementing the curriculum has been established.

The data from clubs participating in the curriculum and the non-participating club will provide a solid foundation for assessing the impact of the curriculum. In addition, information from the formative evaluation will be used to revise the curriculum and prepare it for voluntary use in all of Florida's 4-H clubs.

The Dynamics of Positive Youth Development

Even when youth are not plagued with problems, positive youth development does not occur naturally. Positive youth development involves acting in ways and doing things that build and develop youth's assets. The history of 4-H is one of positive youth development programming. A two-pronged approach "to prevent at-risk behaviors and to promote assets" is necessary to alter the frequency with which adolescents make choices that compromise their health or jeopardize their future (Perkins, Haas, & Keith, 1997).

It is important to note that the assets discussed in this study are powerful in predicting at-risk behavior but do not fully explain at-risk behavior. Other factors are likely to play a role, including family support, specific family discipline styles, family income, school dynamics other than climate, and exposure to particular kinds of prevention programs. Further research is needed to learn more about these relationships. At the same time, it should be noted that broad social and cultural factors might be at work, each of which is beyond the capacity of families and communities to alter.


This article demonstrates the importance of employing strategies that incorporate data about the needs and desires of their target audience. In addition, using a theoretical framework (i.e., the asset model)for program development is useful not only in guiding in the collection of information, but also in providing a systematic plan for program design. Finally, although not addressed in this article, the employment of a theoretical framework affords the potential for sound evaluation of objectives derived from that framework.

Positive youth development, then, is most likely to happen in a program where there is an extraordinary commitment to children and youth. Programs that focus their attention on increasing the assets of young people are most likely to succeed in building strong and resourceful youth. In turn, these programs are decreasing the number of youth who become involved in at-risk behaviors and the resulting loss of human potential. Duval County 4-H offers quality youth development programming. Currently, 4-H is enhancing its ability to meet the challenges facing youth by including targeted asset-based programming as presented here.


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