Paying it forward is how Betty Gottler, an Auburn University Regional 4-H Extension Agent, described Patricia Bryant of Epes, the recipient of the 2010 National Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer for the 4-H Salute to Excellence Award. National 4-H Council established the 4-H Salute to Excellence Award in 2002 to recognize outstanding 4-H volunteers and applaud volunteers’ dedication to 4-H youth.
On March 11-12, Bryant was recognized again by her peers at "Spring Training," Alabama’s 4-H volunteer training, sponsored by the Monsanto Company.
"Patricia is a 4-H Alumnus," Gottler said. "Her mother is the story behind Patricia. Whatever Patricia needed for demonstrations, speeches or exhibits, her family worked to be sure she had it. This is being ‘paid forward’ to the children in Patricia’s 4-H clubs."
A 4-H club leader for more than 19 years, Patricia credits her commitment to the largest youth organization in the country to what it gave her as a child.
"I grew up in 4-H in Sumter County beginning at age nine," she said. "4-H was the only extracurricular activity offered in my community. I learned to cook, wash, iron clothes and fish, along with all the competitive events offered by the local Extension agents."
Bryant has been instrumental in developing the North Sumter Bugs and Dirt Club, an afterschool 4-H program that meets once a week.
"The 4-H club has become a special project," the honoree said. "We do gardening so healthy-eating lifestyles can be introduced to students at an early age. The students and I, along with help from the community, have planted raised-bed gardens and a plasticulture garden yearly for the past seven years. The students are encouraged to take fresh vegetables home for consumption."
Working with youth for nearly two decades has been rewarding.
"The most joy I get from working with youth is to be able to introduce a new and different way of creative learning to the students—basically hands-on learning," Bryant said. "We, as people, must understand each and every child learns differently. Just to see a child smile because he/she has created something of their very own, with their little hands, that can be taken home for future generations to see, can make a world of difference in their success in later years."
As a regional Extension agent, Gottler knows Bryant’s drive for 4-H comes from "that lifelong passion of the belief the essential elements—belonging, independence, generosity, mastery—are the future for the children in her county. She is not going to give up just because others might."
With students numbering 75 strong, Bryant plans to continue her commitment to the after-school 4-H program she has been leading for 15 years.
"If you are not volunteering for 4-H, then you have missed the best cruise ship ever built," she said. "Think of the wonderful opportunities you can offer children by becoming a 4-H volunteer."
It’s that same belief Bryant has in volunteers and the 4-H program that Monsanto continues to recognize. Monsanto, a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products improving farm productivity and food quality, has continued its financial support of the National 4-H Volunteer Initiative.
Bryant is just one of the 514,000 4-H volunteers who are committed to providing American youth with opportunities to learn leadership, citizenship and life skills.
"We are proud to support the dedication of 4-H volunteers across the country as they help youth become active citizens and community leaders," said John Raines, Monsanto’s Vice President of Customer Advocacy, U.S. Seed and Traits Division. "As a company whose only focus is agriculture, Monsanto is committed to investing in the volunteers who nurture our youth, the future of the agriculture industry."
Monsanto sponsors 4-H volunteer development programs in Alabama as well as 48 additional states and three U.S. Territories. The company also sponsors four Regional 4-H Volunteer Forums.
4-H is a community of more than six million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. National 4-H Council is the private sector, non-profit partner of 4-H National Headquarters located at the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within USDA. The 4-H programs are implemented by the 109 land-grant colleges and universities and the Cooperative Extension System through the 3,100 local Extension offices across the country.
Learn more about 4-H at www.4-h.org.
Rebecca Chaney is a 4-H writer.