What are Sparks?
Everybody has a skill, a talent, an interest, or a special quality that they are passionate about. We call these things SPARKS. They provide joy, purpose, and direction. Sparks are self-discovered and self-identified. They come from deep within and provide energy, joy, purpose, and direction in one’s life. Examples of sparks include:
- Music, art, and sports (skill or talent)
- Vintage films, cars, or fishing (an interest)
- Social justice, environmental advocacy, pet adoption (passionate commitment)
- Empathy, intelligence, spirituality (a special quality)
Why are Sparks Important?
- Growth: Sparks provide the “intrinsic fuel” that powers youth to grow and build new skills, and to overcome barriers that stand in their way.A spark may drive an individual to face down their fear of public speaking, learn new tech skills, get more involved with their community, stay out of trouble, and much more.
- Contribution: Sparks create actions that almost always benefit the larger society.A love of music may lead to playing at a nursing home once a month; a passion for social justice may lead to greater civic engagement; A love of basketball may lead to volunteering as a coach for younger children. The possibilities are endless!
- Connection: Sparks spur youth to build networks of peers who share their interests. Sparks create engagement opportunities for caring 4-H adults who have the expertise to help them.
- Protective Factors: Youth pursuing their sparks are more motivated to succeed, stay out of trouble, and govern their own behavior.These youth tend to avoid behaviors that might endanger themselves or others, are motivated to succeed in academics, are self-aware, and make healthy choices.
- Positive Adjustment: Being engaged in one’s sparks contributes to a larger sense of purpose in life, greater optimism, higher self-esteem. These youth tend to feel a sense of having a place in the world.Youth actively engaged in their sparks tend to feel a sense of knowing their “niche,” and a sense of place in the world. They feel confident, knowing they have a place to fit in.
- Thriving Orientation: Youth who benefit from the people and places they are associated with grow in their connection, competence, caring, confidence, and good character. They have high personal standards and take responsibility. When they also start contributing, making the world around them a better place, they are said to be thriving.Sparks are at the heart of a young person’s ability to achieve a thriving orientation, leading to highly positive 4-H outcomes.
How do Youth Find their Sparks?
4-H offers many opportunities for youth to explore and discover their sparks. Examples include:
- Community clubs offer a variety of projects that youth can enroll in. This allows for exploration of a new interest and connection to other youth who are also interested in exploring that interest.
- Teens as Teachers experiences offer a chance for older youth to share their interests with younger children, in a teaching role.
- 4-H Special Interest (SPIN) clubs offer youth an opportunity to explore a new interest and connect with peers who have that same interest.
- After school programs introduce youth to different potential interest areas in a shorter amount of time, with freedom to branch off from structured activities and explore any one for as long as they wish.