When the Iron County Fair Board wanted to attract more high school and middle school students to their event, 4-H Youth Development Educator Neil Klemme had an idea. He worked with a group of local high schoolers to create and distribute a survey to their peers.
“One of the kids said, “Stop playing polka music and we would come,”” Klemme says. The fair board heeded the advice and hired a band more suited to a younger audience. Iron County Fair attendance by high schoolers has climbed since.
Klemme shared this and other stories about his work in facilitating youth civic involvement with Central Time Host Rob Ferrett on WPR Ideas Network. Listen to the conversation here.
Youth and communities benefit from offering young people places to gather and a voice in local decisions, Klemme says.
“If youth voices aren’t heard, young people find other ways to be heard, which could come out in communities in a negative way,” he says.
As traditional gathering spaces in smaller communities dwindle, the need to attract young people and maintain them as members of the community grows.
“Connecting kids to the assets of their community is also a key to getting them involved and getting them to come back,” Klemme says. “That’s one of the thing they’re going to look at one day when they pick a home and settle with their families.”
“You really have to start building them and teaching them the skills that they need to know to make those decisions,” he says. “It gives them a sense of power and ownership in their community.”
Adults in community leadership positions see the benefit of youth involvement, even if they weren’t completely on board from the onset, Klemme finds.
“The adults really started to see them in a different light and to see them as part of the solution,” he says.
Adults interested in developing inroads for youth civic involvement and voice should contact their UW-Extension office and 4-H Youth Development Educator, Klemme says. Find your county UW-Extension office here. Follow-up by speaking with school, city and county leaders.
“Anywhere that you want kids’ opinions, plug them in and just start asking,” he says.