Editor: National Volunteer Week is April 6-12, 2014.
BRYAN, Ohio -- When Donna Missler became a volunteer with Ohio 4-H Youth Development 29 years ago, “My club had 10 little girls, and I never thought it would grow bigger,” she said.
Today, her club, the Williams County Stars of 4-H Club, has 60 to 65 members each year, and Missler, who runs her own alteration business, also advises every 4-H member in the county taking a sewing project.
Fewer people have time to volunteer, “so clubs have had to get larger,” Missler said. “But when we went to the voters last year for a levy to support 4-H in Williams County, we vowed we wouldn’t turn any kid away. Now we have three or four clubs in the county that are this large.”
Missler is just one of thousands of Ohioans volunteering with Ohio 4-H and with other programs sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. In the 4-H program alone, 20,047 adults and 4,867 youths volunteered in 2013.
Bruce McPheron, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the college, said he was astonished in early March when he attended the annual 4-H conference and started adding up the years that honorees had contributed to Ohio 4-H.
“I added up more than 27,000 years of service to Ohio’s youth,” McPheron said, “and that’s only for the volunteers who were being recognized this year.”
Volunteers -- this year, a total of 836 -- are recognized at the annual event for 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40-plus years of service, so that total doesn’t even include the years of thousands of other volunteers who didn’t mark such anniversaries in 2013.
Most 4-H volunteers are club advisors, said Jeff Dick, OSU Extension field specialist for volunteerism and 4-H community clubs.
“Obviously, our organization would not be able to offer a tenth of what we do today without volunteers,” Dick said. “The volunteers are the lifeline of the program.”
He said 4-H estimates that volunteers give an average of 75 hours annually to the program. “If you take our volunteer numbers, multiply that by 75, and then multiply it by an average salary of $14.50 an hour, the value of our adult volunteers alone adds up to nearly $22 million a year.
“And many volunteers give much more than 75 hours a year.”
Among those are Missler, who didn’t even venture a guess when asked how much time she devotes to her 4-H club, her sewing advisees, the 4-H Council and Extension Advisory Council, the levy committee, and other 4-H-related activities. Why does she do it?
“I don’t know if it’s paying forward or paying back,” Missler said. “When I was young, people gave time to help me figure out what I wanted to do. I always thought I would go to cosmetology school, but I had a real love for sewing and fixing things, and because of 4-H, I’ve always stayed right in that. That’s what 4-H does -- it finds out what kids most have an interest in and helps them pursue it.”
And it helps that she knows she makes a difference.
“I do see a major difference in kids who have a 4-H background,” she said. “Whether it’s in public speaking or self-confidence -- I see that, and I can’t give up on them. That’s what makes me do it.”
Master Gardener Volunteers Exemplify Lifelong Learning
Another Extension effort attracting large numbers of volunteers is the OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, with more than 3,500 master gardener volunteers in 62 counties. Master gardener volunteers take 50 hours of horticultural training through Extension and in return agree to give 50 hours of service to their county Extension program. Volunteers can be recertified each year with an additional 10 hours of continuing education and a minimum of 20 hours of service.
“In 2012, we received about 190,000 volunteer hours donated by master gardeners across the state,” said Pam Bennett, state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator with OSU Extension.
Master gardener volunteers staff horticulture help lines, conduct demonstrations at local events and are often involved in community gardens. It all depends on the local need, Bennett said.
The program has four primary initiatives:
- Backyard gardening and local foods, including working with community gardens.
- Integrated pest management, including teaching people strategies to reduce the use of pesticides as well as best gardening practices.
- Invasive species -- encouraging people to be on the lookout for emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle and others, including how to identify and report them.
- Environmental horticulture, focusing on stormwater management, how to create rain gardens and best management practices for backyard gardening.
“Master gardener volunteers are the ones who extend our outreach into the community,” Bennett said. “The nice thing is, they are usually recognized in the community, and they have credibility because of their connection to the university. They multiply Extension’s efforts into the community much better than the county office ever would be able to do relying solely on paid staff.”
It’s a win-win situation, she added.
“Our job is to give local residents education and an opportunity for lifelong learning that they seek, and in return they continue to volunteer for OSU Extension and teach what they’ve learned to others. The emphasis really is on teaching and learning.”
For information about Ohio 4-H, see http://ohio4h.org. For information on the OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, see http://mastergardener.osu.edu.