Keys to Effective Extension Programs with Latino Audiences

By Beverly Hobbs, 4-H Youth Development Specialist, OSU Extension Service

Oregon 4-H is becoming more diverse as it engages an increasing number of first and second generation Latino youth and families. Since 1997, the program has made the involvement of Latino youth a program priority, and steps taken to increase Latino membership have met with success.

Today, one third of Oregon County 4-H programs have identified outreach efforts underway with over 2500 Latino youth and 169 Latino adult volunteers involved in out-of-school programming. This represents a gain of 400% from the base year of 1995-1996.

The success of outreach efforts reflects the increased capacity of Oregon 4-H to appropriately respond to the Latino culture. 4-H has changed the way it meets and invites Latino families to participate and has added new program content and new program delivery formats to meet the needs and interests of Latino youth. Most importantly it has increased the diversity of Extension staff.

A review of Oregon’s 4-H outreach experience over the last seven years reveals some key elements of effective practice. Among them are the following.

Make a firm commitment. Outreach to new and diverse audiences is demanding work. It challenges a person’s outlook on life and sense of competency. It is a personal as much as a professional journey.

  • Do not undertake outreach unless a long-term commitment can be made. Outreach is not something that is done only as long as the grant funds last.
  • Outreach should be viewed as a broadening of current Extension practice and integral to Extension work.
  • Outreach is the work of all Extension personnel, not just the work of those hired specifically for an outreach position.
  • To succeed, the commitment to outreach must be there on the part of the organization and the individual professional.

Employ bilingual/bicultural outreach staff. The presence of outreach staff who have a deep understanding of the Latino culture and who are fluent in the Spanish language greatly facilitates the process of building relationships and establishing trust with Latino community members.

  • It is not necessary that staff be Latino. Non-Latino bilingual/bicultural staff can successfully fill this role.
  • All outreach staff must be able to relate to and be accepted by the targeted community.
  • If unable to hire their own bilingual/bicultural staff, programs can conduct outreach by partnering with organizations with established ties to the Latino community. This is often a slower process with more limited outcomes.

Emphasize relationships over tasks. Recognize and reflect the importance of personal relationships when working with Latinos.

  • Before programs are designed and implemented, considerable time must be spent getting to know the community and individuals within.
  • Relationships must be built with individuals and families as well as organizations.
  • Take the time to attend to the personal before moving to the task.
  • When it comes time to invite participation, do so personally by phone or face to face.

Create a welcoming Extension office.

  • Hang posters or set out decorative objects reflective of the Latino culture.
  • Have signs and printed materials available in Spanish.
  • Employ someone who speaks Spanish as the office receptionist.

Involve youth and families in the design of programs. Do not try to fit new audiences into existing programs designed for traditional Extension audiences.

  • Ask youth and families what they want for programs, identifying both needs and interests.
  • Be prepared to develop new programs (baile folklorico and soccer clubs, robotics and videography classes) or to modify existing ones (teach computer classes in Spanish).
  • Once programs are ongoing, seek regular feedback and keep parents informed of what is happening.

Create programs that reflect the Latino culture and create a comfortable learning environment.

  • Target programs specifically to Latinos. It is very appropriate for programs to initially attract primarily or exclusively Latino membership.
  • Deliver programs in a language that is most comfortable for families.
  • Seek Latino volunteers.
  • Offer a family approach to programs, for instance, parent/child sewing or computer instruction.

Offer separate volunteer training as needed. Most Latinos do not have an understanding of Extension as an organization or its programs. They also may have limited literacy in English and in Spanish.

  • Explain community-based youth development programs, the particulars of 4-H, and the role of volunteers.
  • Demonstrate programs.
  • Offer plenty of help with paperwork and carefully explain why information is needed, who will see it, and how it will be used.
  • Provide information in the preferred language of volunteers.
  • Use demonstration and group interaction to deliver training rather than relying on written information.

Proceed slowly, thoughtfully, and incrementally. Don’t attempt too much at one time.

  • Outreach programs usually require a good deal of support. Trying to quickly meet everyone’s needs will over tax outreach staff.
  • Staff will need to demonstrate programs, and volunteers often will need a period of mentoring in addition to group training before they are willing to take on leadership responsibilities.

Work with community partners. Partnerships promote the sustainability of programs. Partnerships are also critical to helping Latino youth and families access resources Extension cannot provide.

  • Work to build a local coalition in support of the positive development of Latino youth.
  • Help Latino families access resources by connecting them with other community organizations.
  • Help community organizations become more responsive to the Latino community.

Support outreach staff. A culturally diverse staff requires that attention be paid to developing effective working relationships. Cultural differences impact work styles, preferred styles of communication, and expectations.

  • Teamwork should characterize the work environment with frequent communication between staff.
  • Co-workers should acknowledge the importance of outreach efforts.
  • Time should be dedicated to helping all staff better understand cultural differences and to building trust between co-workers.

Provide state level Extension support and leadership. Working with the Latino audience represents risk-taking for many Extension agents. It puts them in an unfamiliar environment and challenges their feelings of competence.

  • Dedicating state staff time to outreach reinforces the importance of Latino outreach and brings additional resources to the effort.
  • State leadership also promotes connection between county outreach efforts, facilitating the sharing of information and experience and the development of a network of support.

Provide staff training. Building cultural competence takes both training and experience.

  • A planned staff development program focused on working with culturally diverse audiences increases skill levels and builds community among those who work in outreach.
  • Training should pertain to work with Extension audiences as well as to working relationships among Extension colleagues.

Develop supporting resources. Outreach will prompt requests for new resources, especially ones to help current staff understand diverse cultures and to help diverse audiences understand Extension.

  • These tools are important to the success of outreach staff.
  • Products developed in Oregon include a Latino Outreach web site, a publication on Latino volunteerism, a Spanish language video to explain 4-H to Latino youth and adults , and a bilingual 4-H recruitment brochure.

The Oregon Outreach 4-H experience has been extremely positive. The interest and involvement of Latino families, the personal and professional growth of staff, and the positive impact on our traditional audiences and other community organizations reinforce our commitment to reaching and engaging Oregon’s diverse communities.

The Winning 4-H Plan

Educators from Ohio have developed an awareness program for 4-H educators, volunteers, parents, and youth in which the participants experience everyday situations that individuals with special needs face daily. Called the Winning 4-H Plan, the program aims to create a positive environment for diverse special-needs youth to help them reach their fullest potential as capable, competent, caring, and contributing citizens.

Youth with disabilities have the right to enjoy extracurricular activities such as 4-H. Efforts through 4-H programming and volunteer training need to ensure that children with disabilities have broad access to educational opportunities available through the hands-on learning experiences that 4-H provides. “All youth, regardless of their physical and mental conditions, need and deserve the opportunity to be involved in activities unique to their own special talents and interest. They also need to be integrated, to the greatest extent possible, with other children with and without disabilities in preparation for adulthood in a world with great diversity. For this reason, adults working with organizations such as 4-H should be well informed about disabilities and their implication for involvement of youth” (Tormoehlen and Field 1994). Volunteers need to understand that in addition to simply including youth with special needs, they will need to make adaptations and promote empathy among members and adults. “Inclusion means that people with disabilities have the same opportunities for involvement in meaningful and satisfying experiences as afforded other segments of the population” (Stumpf et al. 2002).

Use of the 4-H PetPALS curriculum, which challenges participants to experience what it is like not to be able see clearly, hear normally, or have all tactile sensations, has helped create an awareness of special-needs conditions that talking and lecture do not. Participants in the Winning 4-H Plan undergo similar experiences through a series of hands-on work stations that emphasize the challenges that special-needs individuals face every day. This training helps both adults and youth be better prepared to adapt project materials and experiences and provide support to accommodate special-needs youth in traditional 4-H club programs and activities. Through this sensitivity training, 4-H youth and adult volunteers gain a better understanding of the challenges special-needs youth face.

The goal of the Winning 4-H Plan is to better accommodate special-needs 4-H participants across the country while providing resources for professionals, volunteers, and parents in the Cooperative Extension System so that they can create the best possible experiences for special-needs youth. “When asked specifically about people who have special challenges, the majority of Extension professional agreed or strongly agreed that learning to relate effectively with physically challenged people (68.4%) and mentally challenged people (56.3%) should be an important part of 4-H” (Ingram 1999).

The Winning 4-H Plan helps create a culture in the 4-H movement within the Cooperative Extension System that embraces all youth and helps ensure that youth are involved in activities and programs that have a step-by-step progression of challenges so that successes can be celebrated along the way. 4-H embraces everyone and continues to strive for widespread involvement and inclusion neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, and county by county.


Coleman, B.M. and Booth, N. “4-H and the Handicapped: Volunteers’ Perception,” Journal of Extension, January 1984 volume 22, Number 1.

Ingram, P.D. (1999) “Attitudes of Extension Professionals toward Diversity Education in 4-H Programs,” Journal of Extension. Available at

Small Animal Interaction Programs, 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio and H. M. Suthers-McCabe, D.V.M., Associate Professor, Extension Specialist Human-Companion Animal Interaction, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, Virginia, copyright 2002, The Ohio State University Extension, pages 83 to 107 and appendices pages 183 to 211.

Stumpf, M., Henderson, K., Luken, K., Bianleschki, D., and Casey II, M. (2002) “4-H Programs with a Focus on Including Youth with Disabilities,” Journal of Extension. Available at

Tormoehlen, Rand and Field,W.E. (1994) “A Perfect Fit: Involving Youth with Disabilities in 4-H,” Journal of Extension. Available at

Migrant Farm Workers: Our Nation's Invisible Population

migrant farm workers photo

By Eduardo González, Jr., State Diversity Specialist, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Farm workers in United States

Between 1 and 3 million migrant farm workers leave their homes every year to plant, cultivate, harvest, and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts in the U.S. Although invisible to most people, the presence of migrant farm workers in many rural communities throughout the nation is undeniable, since hand labor is still necessary for the production of the blemish-free fruits and vegetables that consumers demand

Who are Migrant Farm workers?

Migrant farm workers are predominantly Mexican-born sons, husbands, and fathers who leave what is familiar and comfortable with the hopes and dreams of making enough money to support their families back home; feed themselves; purchase land and a home; and – like many immigrants who came before them – ultimately return to their homeland. While others come from countries such as Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other states in the United States their aspirations remain the same. They are young, averaging about 31 years of age. Some arrive as single men, while others leave their families behind while they seek work and others travel and work with their families. For those who travel without their families, once they realize that they will need to maintain their U.S. earning capacity, they would much rather have their families settle with them in the U.S. More than half of all farm workers – 52 of every 100 – are unauthorized workers with no legal status in the United States.

Many farm workers arrive with solid agricultural skills firmly grounded in practical experience and working knowledge of agriculture. This expertise is complemented by a strong work ethic, deeply rooted in their commitment to provide for their families or make it on their own. This is reflected in their willingness to make considerable sacrifices in order to guarantee a more prosperous future for their extended families, their children and/or their siblings. These sacrifices range from separation from their countries of origins, families, and what is familiar to learning to navigate a foreign land where little is known about them and whose customs, language, foods, and ways of life are different from what they know. In many instances this new place brings about feelings of alienation and isolation. No longer is La Plaza – a central gathering place in town for community interaction and fellowship in their countries of origin – available to them. Instead loneliness creeps in for many as they are limited to the boundaries of the farm due in part to limited access to transportation and also to their lack of legal status which reduce their access to neighborhood businesses, services and community activities in general. Fear of being picked up by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) due to their undocumented status causes many farm workers to go into hiding in the communities that they work and live in and further contributes to the isolation that farm workers routinely experience. So in many ways, Migrant farm workers work in settings that do not mirror those of the majority of the nation’s working populace.

In spite of these challenges, for many the hopes and dreams of making more money in the U.S than in their countries of origin is enough to drive them to make this enormous sacrifice. Many experience great pride in the contribution that they make to society through their labor for they realize their work feeds the world. For these farm workers there is also a sense of accomplishment in their ability to support their families in purchasing homes or going to school in their home country. For others, their hopes and dreams do not always materialize to the degree envisioned and promised with 61 percent of U.S. farm workers’ income falling below the poverty level. A median income of less than $7500 a year leave many feeling trapped with no other viable options outside of formwork and with the shame and indignity of returning to their homelands with less than what they came.

Why Do They Come

A host of push-pull factors contribute to the overwhelmingly immigrant farm worker labor pool. Some push factors in farm workers’ countries of origin are economic instability, political unrest, population growth, land reform shortcomings in rural areas, and scarce employment opportunities. Push factors that impact immigration patterns vary from country to country and from individual to individual. This is to say that the circumstances that cause an individual to emigrate from Colombia, South America may be different from those that cause an indigenous person from the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca, or Guanajuato in Mexico to come to the United States. A Colombian immigrant fleeing political persecution and civil unrest seeks asylum as a political refugee, while the indigenous Mexican treks across the desert into the US in search of work and income to support their family back home or just to be able to eat.

Pull factors within the United States include the ongoing desire for a low cost labor force to fill jobs no longer attractive to US citizens due to low pay, limited or no benefits and/or substandard work conditions. Other more direct pull factors have included federally enacted and administered farm labor programs such as the Bracero contract labor program that recruited workers from Mexico to harvest crops in the Southwestern United States from 1942 – 1964. Today, larger numbers of Mexican farm workers have moved into other regions of the country, including the Northeast, through a similar farm labor contract program known as the H-2A agricultural guest worker program enacted by Congress in 1952 and more widely used when the Bracero program ended in 1964.

Immigration Status

One of the key dynamics that detrimentally impacts the lives of migrant farm workers is their lack of legal status within the U.S. Unlike other immigrant groups that came before them these workers have not been granted legal status to live in the U.S. The undocumented status of an overwhelming number of farm workers has given way to increasing injustice and abuse against them. While not always making headlines, reports of injustice and abuse against farm workers abound including those of opportunistic crew leaders, substandard housing, violence against farm workers by community members of the dominant culture, exclusion from labor laws, inadequate housing, pesticide violations, and the inferior education of children of farm workers. Out of fear of displacement and deportation, farm workers often remain unable to protest inadequate conditions or report employer’s violation of labor, health or safety laws to state authorities. Furthermore, despite their overwhelming representation and contribution to the agricultural community, farm workers lack political leverage, therefore remaining a disenfranchised population. This lack of legal status sets the stage for farm workers’ lack of voice, agency and advocacy – in essence it creates their invisibility.

The Changing Face of Immigrants

As we continue to grow as a nation of immigrants, we need to make an extraordinary effort to understand farm workers in their full context. The legacy and lingering effects of living in a divided society have left us with incomplete, inaccurate and distorted information as to the history, triumphs and contributions of different groups within our society. As a nation built on the sacrifices of many different immigrant groups we must bear in mind that while the faces of immigrants have changed, their pioneering spirit, courage, determination, ability to thrive, and dreams of securing a better future for their children remain the same.


Finding from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 1997-1998: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farm workers US Department of Labor.

The Human Cost of Food: Farm workers lives, labor and advocacy Edited by Charles D. Thompson and Melinda Wiggings Working Poor: Farm workers in the United States by David Griffith and Ed Kissam.

Coming Up on the Season – Farm workers in the United States and Farmerworkers in New York State by Kay Embrey.

Farm workers and Racism by Betty Garcia Mathewson.

Photo by bobjagendorf / CC BY