What are the good and positive things that led you to be the person you are? If you were to make a list, there is a strong possibility the support of a caring, committed adult would rank near the top. Research shows there is a special value in kids having relationships with important adults besides Mom and Dad who will listen to their hopes, joys and concerns without passing judgment; adults who provide a perspective they may or may not get at home.
Have you thought you could be that caring person, the "4-H lady" or "4-H man" in your neighborhood? Have you considered how you can make an important difference in a child’s life by serving as a 4-H volunteer?
Surely, many of us teach Sunday school, coach soccer teams or chaperon band trips. But the concept of volunteer-led, community-based 4-H clubs is a fairly new tradition in Alabama. 4-H has often been viewed as just another government service, like schools or libraries. All of that has changed, as more families and communities have begun to recognize the incredible power 4-H has in long-term personal development.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) will help you step up to the plate and be a person who makes that difference. We will provide you (and your family and friends) with the resources and training you need to build young people’s sense of belonging, independence, generosity and mastery.
Where do you start? Call your county cooperative Extension office (see www.aces.edu). Your Extension office will put you in contact with the 4-H staff member who is responsible for recruiting, training and supporting 4-H in your community. Your 4-H agent will walk you through the process of becoming a 4-H volunteer. He or she will help make sure you are screened, trained and placed in the situation best utilizing your skills and interests.
There are many ways you can serve. Are there 4-H clubs where you live? Your 4-H and Extension office may help place you with one of those, where you can learn the ropes. Or, if you and some neighbors want to start a new club, that’s not hard to do: get information and training, find some kids and select a place to meet – and voila!, you have a 4-H club. It can be a general-interest 4-H club or it can be a club with a specific focus, from public speaking to rocketry to dairy cattle.
What does it take to be a 4-H volunteer? Simply being a good human being is a great place to start. You are caring and concerned. Patience, kindness and a willingness to have fun are crucial. Since 4-H will provide you with incredible information and resources, you don’t have to be an expert on art or hiking or gerbils or any of the other thousand things kids are interested in. However, if you are knowledgeable about chickens, quilts or photography, your enthusiasm can always be shared within a community club, a school club, or special 4-H camps or programs within your community.
Naturally, the success of Alabama 4-H depends on many people pitching in. Some people are so passionate about their horse club or community club they become local 4-H institutions. But there is also a need for people to make short-term commitments, like conducting one robotics or water-painting workshop, or accompanying a group to camp. All of those "caring, committed adults" are important to young people.
It is often said, "Volunteering is a privilege." It is a privilege allowing you to build your own skills as an organizer and educator who knows how to work with a diversity of interesting and enthusiastic adults and youth. It may help you build life-long relationships with others who share your values and your belief in the power of learning.