BUILDING VIBRANT YOUTH GROUPS

Kirk A. Astroth

4-H Youth Specialist

Why are some youth groups more effective than others? What are the distinguishing characteristics of highly effective youth groups? Some research which I recently conducted to identify the characteristics of such youth groups sheds some light on why some groups are better for youth development than others. For a year, I intensively studied five youth groups with 163 members from three randomly selected Montana counties. I participated in all their meetings, interviewed 27 key youth members, 7 adult group leaders, 12 parents and many others. In addition, I administered several survey instruments to measure satisfaction and self- confidence. The results have much to say to those of us who work with youth programs.

In trying to capture the essence of effective youth groups, I have adopted to concept of vibrancy. I first came across this term in Mary Pipher's seminal book about adolescent girls called Reviving Ophelia. According to Pipher, vibrancy is a characteristic of people whose psychological health is such that "they accept themselves rather than waiting for others to accept them." The concept of vibrancy is similar in many ways to the concept of autonomy developed by Piaget and elaborated upon by Constance Kamii. Vibrant youth groups, then, are pulsating with life, vigor and activity and foster a sense of influence over life's events rather than submission to the will and whims of others.

Vibrant youth groups helps youth reach their potential and become self-directing, autonomous adults. Vibrant youth groups are those which have achieved a sense of genuineness and possess a drive toward the future--not in some smug way but rather in a way that they believe in themselves and have a sense of inner confidence. Vibrant youth groups believe in what they do, celebrate their commitments to action and express a sense of hope and courage for youth and their role in it.

After a year of research into the specific distinguishing features of effective youth groups, I have identified ten essential characteristics of vibrant youth groups.