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