A teen leader can come from every walk of life, as long as they are given the opportunity and have a network of supporters to give them a boost. In Nebraska and four other states — Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee — that boost comes in the form of a 4-H program that helps develop these teen leaders within low-income communities.
Through the Healthy Futures program, 4-H youth work to help kids from kindergarten through eighth grade grow a foundation of skills that can be used in the workforce, while emphasizing everyday healthier lifestyle choices. The goal of the program is to help prepare them for a future in which they can economically advance, as well as become physically and emotionally healthier.
Creating these building blocks for a lifetime of good health is important for overall wellness and the reduction of chronic disease, not only for the children, but their families. That’s especially important in Nebraska where according to America’s Health Rankings for Women and Children, in the past three years, obesity among women ages 18-44 increased 16% in the state.
The 4-H program takes place in eight Nebraska counties, both urban and rural. Ten teenagers will be chosen as Ambassadors and are provided with the training and skills to facilitate healthy living activities for school-age children. They put their training to work out in the community and in local schools by teaching others how to live healthier in practical ways, such as nutrition and exercise tips that can carry over into adulthood. They will also have the opportunity to develop relationships with community members and local professionals who can serve as a network for future career development.
“We see their confidence grow each time they’re with us, whether that’s talking or doing a food demo or answering questions,” said Natalie Sehi, a registered dietitian and extension educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who is helping to coordinate this program.
The Ambassadors will then apply those skills in a classroom, teaching other students how to follow a healthy recipe, to ways to be more physically active during the day and the importance of breakfast.
The 4-H Healthy Futures program aims to serve more than 6,800 youth and their families, plus 100 teens across the five states that are part of the initial pilot, thanks to a $500,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare.
“Exposure to the diversity of workforce and employment opportunities available definitely raises awareness of the importance of maintaining, and even beginning, to live healthier,” said Gloria Kennedy, an outreach coordinator for UnitedHealthcare in the state.
With 4-H’s emphasis on hands-on learning that goes back more than a century, the partnership with UnitedHealthcare is well-suited to help develop the next generation of teen leaders to bring about healthier lives.
“We want them to think about all the modelling they’re doing for the youth they’re serving,” Natalie said. “It’s exciting to see teens engaged in opportunities that allow them to grow.”
Visit this website to find out more about the Healthy Futures program.
No endorsement of UnitedHealthcare’s products or services is granted or implied by 4‑H, the US government, or any of its organizational units or employees.