More and more people are making a positive difference in the lives of Alabama’s kids. We call them "4-H Volunteers."
Perhaps you have come across some of them. They are wonderful folks like Betty Griffin from Barbour County and Guy Hall of the Alabama Pork Producers. Maybe you know Master Gardener Penny Smith from Mobile County or Ryan Thompson, who helped judge 4-H contests in Bibb County – more than 3,000 Alabamians altogether.
Far too often, these volunteers labor in obscurity. Occasionally, one will be recognized for the depth and breadth of his or her commitment to Alabama’s young people. However, few folks demonstrate such dedication as Sumter County’s Patricia Bryant, a 19-year 4-H volunteer, who was named the 2010 National Salute to Excellence Lifetime 4-H Volunteer. Quite an impressive honor, but not nearly as impressive as the lady herself.
Working from the town of Epes (population 200), Bryant has been a volunteer and advocate who has mentored dozens of West Alabama youth, seeking to instill a sense of self-worth and responsibility.
"I have walked beside 4-Hers, listened to and traveled with them, raised money to go to camp, joined them on field trips, encouraged them and recruited other volunteers to help them out," Bryant said.
Volunteers like Patricia Bryant devoted more than 100,000 hours in 2010 to helping Alabama kids build mastery and independence. They help young people learn about goats, ATV safety and photography. They take kids to summer camp, they arrange refreshments for club meetings and they open their forests so a new generation can learn about sycamores and buckeyes. Some spend a few hours, just helping out and some, like Bryant, will devote many weeks over the course of many years. Each one is deeply appreciated and each one helps "make a difference."
You may have noticed the size of the Alabama Cooperative Extension staff is not as large as it once was. And you may also recognize it is extremely challenging being a young person these days. The quaint sin of smoking a cornsilk cigarette has been displaced by much more vile and destructive temptations, and the old-time mischief of listening in to party-line calls pales beside the dark doors the Internet now opens.
Since many of our hard-working county agents and their assistants work with more than 1,000 members of in-school clubs, making the role of volunteers more important than ever. A cornerstone of 4-H is: "4-H provides a positive relationship with a caring adult." That’s where people like you come in. Since 2007, the number of adult 4-H volunteers has grown by 50 percent. Alabamians have seen a need and stepped up to the plate to fill it.
National Volunteer Week is April 10-16. Here’s an idea: Become a 4-H volunteer. Call your county Extension office (find the number at www.aces.edu) to find out how you can help. There is a job that exactly matches your skills and your schedule, and your county Extension staff and regional Extension agent will help you find it.
So, what are the benefits? Well, helping young people and building your community are pretty significant. But there are benefits to you. It’s a great way to develop your own skills. You may become a better manager, a better teacher, or a more knowledgeable gardener or chef. And 4-H training in positive youth development has helped many, many people become more skilled and caring parents and grandparents.
It has been said a pessimist sees the glass as half-empty and an optimist sees the same glass as half-full. It has also been said a giving person sees a glass of water and starts looking for someone who might be thirsty. We have plenty of thirsty kids in Alabama, so your glass is always needed.
Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.