by | May 16, 2019

Since a 4-H program can keep youth out of trouble, can a positive youth development approach also help turn lives around? For years, Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch has pointed out that you will not fi nd 4-H members in the county juvenile program.

With that idea in mind, I met with Bill Prince, family court administrator and chief juvenile officer for Greene County, in 2018. We began dreaming about how to develop a program that would benefi t Greene County youth. The program is now a reality. The Greene County Commission and University of Missouri Extension are each funding 50 percent of the full-time position.

The Greene County Extension Council is funding memberships for the students as well as supplies and other expenses related to the program. As far as we know, this is the fi rst such partnership in Missouri.

The payoff could be signifi cant. As recently noted by Commissioner Bengsch, “Preventing only one person from being incarcerated in our jail at the current cost of $63 per day, we would recoup the county investment in this venture in 254 days.”

Justin Kastning of Seymour began work as the 4-H Youth Associate on Jan. 7. He grew up in the 4-H program. He has worked for the Division of Youth Services, as a park director and as a foster parent. Most recently he has been self-employed on the family farm.

The Greene County Juvenile Offi ce receives between 1,400 and 1,600 referrals each year for delinquency violations (behaviors that would be criminal if committed by adults) and status offenses (things like truancy and running away from home). The juvenile offi ce also serves about 600 youth who are subject to the court’s jurisdiction due to abuse and neglect.

The Greene County Youth Academy (GCYA) is a day treatment program. The juvenile offi ce provides services to youth placed in that program by the court. Those youth go to school there during the day and participate in programming after school.

In the beginning, GCYA is going to be the focus of the new 4-H program. The GCYA students will be enrolled in 4-H where the sky is the limit for activities: camping, nutrition and fi tness, arts and crafts, aerospace, rockets and more.

If a child can dream it, 4-H can provide the programming necessary to make that child’s interest a reality.

Students also have the opportunity to take part in 4-H contests, camps and the fair.

David Burton

Best of all, according to the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, 4-H members report better grades, higher levels of academic competence and are nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college than those who are not in 4-H.

The second part of this new effort in Greene County is to match youth that graduate from the GCYA with a community 4-H club so they can keep learning and growing.

This is a tremendous opportunity to expand our programming efforts in Springfi eld and Greene County. But, more importantly, this is an opportunity for 4-H to change lives positively.

The Greene County Extension Council is looking for grants or sponsorships to cover some unique costs associated with this program targeting socially disadvantaged and at-risk youth.

Ultimately, our council members believe this effort will prove that a positive 4-H program can keep youth out of trouble and that is good for all Missourians.

Burton is the county engagement specialist for MU Extension in Greene County and can be reached by email at More than 95,000 youth are involved in 4-H in Missouri. To learn more visit

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