The Latino Initiative team of UC ANR's 4-H youth development program received the national diversity and inclusion award for their outstanding performance in expanding the 4-H program to California's Latino youth. The award was presented at the November annual conference of the National 4-H Association of Extension for Youth Development in Memphis, Tennessee.
The award recognizes their pilot program implemented in eight California counties that generated a 250% growth in the participation of Latino children and adolescents from 2016 to 2019.
“I'm so proud to be associated with this very important work and group of passionate and skilled colleagues.” The Latino initiative has set a strong foundation for expanding this work throughout California to ensure all young people have access to high caliber programming that meets local needs.” Stated Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, UC ANR Statewide 4-H Director.
Members of the Latino Initiative present included Lupita Fábregas, Claudia Díaz Carrasco, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, Russ Hill, and Liliana Vega.
"This week, I am happy to be at the National Conference of the 4-H Extension Association for Youth Development," Claudia Diaz Carrasco, a 4-H advisor in Riverside, wrote on social media after receiving this recognition. "Since 2015, I have been given the opportunity to learn by doing, and I am working to make this world a better place by helping train the next generation."
Before implementing the Latino 4-H Initiative, many Latino parents were unaware of the importance of 4-H. They knew about the youth clubs only from what they saw at county fairs, where children and teens interacted with animals. Parents believed that 4-H was a hobby for those who wished to explore animal life. However, with the time and effort of bilingual and bicultural 4-H experts, more young Latinos have discovered that 4-H is not a hobby but an invaluable opportunity to develop skills that help them succeed in life.
It was then that University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources began to execute profound changes to expand its coverage. The first step was to adapt and develop 4-H content to serve the needs of Latinos and offer its programs to youth in urban areas of California. Afterwards, bilingual, and bicultural experts were hired. More Latino volunteers were recruited to run the pilot program in Kern, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Riverside counties, areas with large Latino populations.
"At first, we didn't know what the program was about," said Jose Sanchez, a Merced County teen who enrolled in 4-H after participating in a cooking class during high school. "My mom and sister came to training. We liked these workshops, and my mom liked that the workshops were in English and Spanish."
Sanchez, who likes mechanics and is interested in engineering-related careers, said that he was presented with the opportunity to be part of “Juntos” at the end of his first year of participation in 4-H. This 4-H program promotes the college experience among Latinos through a multi-day learning visit on the UC Merced campus. That opportunity put university life among his goals. "Living on campus for almost a week was one of my favorite experiences. We learned a lot about careers, life at the university, and I also met new friends," Sanchez said.
Díaz Carrasco added that the sustainability of an initiative like this requires a good strategy accompanied by a large amount of human, cultural, financial resources, and a real and sincere connection with the community. "Locally in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, we have been able to continue building on the foundations of the Latino initiative. I feel privileged because my personal and professional experiences have underpinned this work."
Diaz Carrasco envisions expanding the program over the next five years. "I would like to continue the initial idea of having a Latino 4-H specialist provide the statewide leadership and coordination that is required to continue to expand the Latino initiative. I think that if each county makes a real effort to get to know the Latino community in its geographic area and its specific needs, we will surely find similarities and differences that we can address as a team and thus create programs that are accessible and welcoming to young Latinos."