USDA and the Military Support Youth through Positive Youth Development
About the Collaboration
To support military-connected children in accessing consistent, supportive, and multi-faceted programs and services that foster positive youth development, both on and off military installations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains four partnerships. One partnership is between the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Office of Military Community and Family Policy (MC&FP). The additional three are between NIFA and the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
The overarching collaboration between the armed forces and NIFA started in 1982. At that time, local military installations began partnering with land-grant universities, supported through the USDA, to develop programming to support military families. Through these partnerships, the USDA and the armed forces expanded efforts to include programs that support youth:
- Beginning in 1995, NIFA and the Land-Grant University System partnered with the Army, Navy, and Air Force to create 4-H Clubs, on and off installations, in order to bring positive youth-development experiences to children and youth wherever the military takes them.
- The Operation: Military Kids (OMK) Partnership Initiative was created in 2004. The Army National Guard and Army Reserve fund the OMK Partnership Initiative, which is currently administered through a partnership agreement with the Army, NIFA, and land-grand universities. The partnership works with statewide partners, such as the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs, veterans' organizations, and local communities and military families.
In 2009, a comprehensive Military Extension partnership was established between the USDA and the DoD. The partnership supports three main objectives:
- Increase and strengthen community capacity in support of military families.
- Increase professional and workforce-development opportunities.
- Expand and strengthen family, child care, and youth-development programs.
The partnership draws on the resources provided by the USDA 4-H youth-development program, land-grant universities, and the Cooperative Extension System faculty and staff to help strengthen military child, youth, and family programs.
Below are some examples of the multi-faceted programs supported by the collaborations:
- The Army, Navy, and Air Force Youth Development Projects and 4-H Military Clubs. These projects are funded through the Army, Navy, and Air Force, in partnership with NIFA and 4-H, and administered through Kansas State University working with 4-H Military Liaisons and other land-grant university partners. 4-H Clubs allow youth on installations and in communities worldwide to participate in the following:
- 4-H projects that include citizenship, healthy living, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and focus on leadership and community service activities in a safe and fun environment. As military-connected youth transfer from installation to installation, they can easily make connections through local 4-H Club programs in their new communities.
- 4-H and land-grant university extension professionals provide military partners with professional development training and positive youth development-infused curriculum to help youth engage in 4-H projects.
- Operation: Military Kids (OMK). Funded through the Army, OMK is a partnership that serves military-connected children and youth who are experiencing the deployment of a parent by providing them with resources and activities and fostering a local support network. The purpose of OMK is to build state and local community capacity through the formation of collaborative partnerships to support military-connected youth. OMK provides military-connected youth with service-learning and leadership opportunities, strengthens resiliency skills, and promotes life-skill development with an emphasis on communication, problem solving, responsibility, and the formation of positive relationships.
- Teen Adventure Camps & Camps for Children with Special Needs. Funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and administered through the Military Extension Partnership, military-connected youth are able to attend high-adventure camps that help them build resiliency while overcoming challenges. Additionally, military-connected children and youth with special needs have the opportunity to attend camps specifically designed for their abilities.
- Military Extension Internship Program. Funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this program, administered by Purdue University, places college students and recent graduates on military installations around the world to work in child, youth, and school services. The objective is to expose college students studying child and youth development to the military child care system as a career track.
- Project YES! (Youth Extension Service). Funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this program, administered by North Carolina State University, provides college students with the opportunity to support military-connected children and youth by offering educational programs while their parents are attending military programs. Project YES! focuses on three major areas:
- Leadership development
- Resiliency and life skills
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) activities
All programs offer interactive, activity-based exercises designed to keep youth excited and engaged. The partnership hosts one- to two-day educational events for children impacted by military deployments. While parents or guardians participate in Yellow Ribbon Program events or other military support programs, children and youth participate in specially-designed fun programs and activities.