Published on 04/22/24

Volunteers uplift statewide UGA Extension outreach programs

By Sheri Dorn, Keri Gandy Hobbs
Seen from above, outstretched hands form a circle while holding handfuls of soil and green plants.
Volunteers across Extension contributed over 324,200 hours in 2023, the equivalent of more than 155 full-time employees. (Submitted photo)

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension depends on thousands of volunteers who give generously to extend program impact and reach in support of Extension missions.

During Volunteer Appreciation Week April 21-28, UGA Extension celebrates the many volunteers who donate their time to facilitate Georgia 4-H, Master Gardener Extension Volunteer and Family and Consumer Sciences programming at the county, district and state levels. 

Volunteers across Extension contributed over 324,200 hours in 2023, the equivalent of more than 155 full-time employees.

Elevating youth development with Georgia 4-H

During the 2023 program year, Georgia 4-H adult and teen volunteers from across the state dedicated more than 159,000 hours — an equivalent value of more than $5 million — to youth development through 4-H programs, activities and events. These hours were amassed by 6,255 adult and teen 4-H volunteers, including 3,573 adult chaperones at district and statewide events; 1,334 teen leaders assisting with programs; 1,953 certified Project Achievement judges; 406 youth club leaders for local and statewide programming, and many other critical roles. 

This year, John Jones of Pulaski County was named Georgia 4-H Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer, awarded to exceptional volunteers who have served more than 10 years, during the annual 4-H Salute to Excellence ceremony. Jones has served Georgia 4-H for over 20 years, from chaperoning youth at 4-H Project Achievement to serving in the 4-H Clover Café at the Georgia National Fair. Pulaski County 4-H alumnus Cooper Hardy credits “Mr. John” for consistently giving his time and serving as a role model for youth locally and across the district. “He is always finding ways to get kids excited about 4-H,” Hardy said.

Gordon County 4-H volunteer Rhonda Dunnaway was named the Georgia 4-H Volunteer of the Year, given to remarkable volunteers who have served 4-H for less than 10 years. Dunnaway has volunteered her time with 4-H youth development for seven years.

Lori Bledsoe, Northwest District 4-H program development coordinator, calls Dunnaway “a true asset to Northwest District,” applying her photography skills to document the youth experience for 4-H programs across the district, among other services. “She goes above and beyond to ensure our 4-H youth are well equipped and provided for at all times,” said UGA Extension Beef Specialist Jason Duggin.

Master Gardeners support consumer horticulture across the state

Ten community members sit on wooden benches outdoors at the GROWL Fulton County Demonstration and Teaching Garden listening to a Master Gardener Volunteer given instruction..
A Master Gardener with UGA Extension teaches a class at the GROWL Fulton County Demonstration and Teaching Garden. (Submitted photo)

During the 2023 calendar year, Master Gardener Extension Volunteers (MGEVs) from across the state contributed 159,990 hours to support Extension programming in consumer horticulture, at a value exceeding $5.1 million. These hours were the cumulative product of more than 2,200 MGEVs who meet state criteria for active status. The volunteers devoted more than 22,000 additional hours to keeping their knowledge and skills sharp through continuing education. 

“Without our volunteers, we wouldn't be able to do as many classes or have as many different topics. The time they put into planning and teaching our community is valuable and appreciated by everyone that attends these classes,” says Morgan Grizzle, Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for UGA Extension in Houston County. 

Master Gardeners support Extension’s consumer horticulture programming with projects like demonstration gardens. Christen Thomas, program coordinator in Paulding County, said the “talented demonstration garden team took on the challenge of creating demonstration gardens that can be used for programs throughout the year, like how to start a vegetable garden or how to garden for pollinators.” 

In 2023, more than 240 Master Gardeners received recognition awards for years of service, from five to 30-plus years of service.

“Every day, people are rediscovering the many benefits of plants and gardening,” said Sheri Dorn, state Extension Master Gardener Volunteer coordinator. “They want to do more with plants but lack the confidence to do so. They are looking for help and guidance. Master Gardeners provide essential support for Extension to meet this need, serving as mentors and teachers for a whole new generation of plant people. Extension simply couldn’t do what it does without volunteers like Master Gardeners.”  

Family and Consumer Sciences volunteers support resident taxpayers

In 2023, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) community collaborators volunteered more than 4,826 hours – valued at $153,467 — to Family and Consumer Sciences Extension programs.

Family and Consumer Sciences volunteers support programs like UGA Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which provides tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income taxpayers.

“Preparing taxes for people on a fixed income has allowed me to meet so many people I never would have met and save them from the high cost of commercial preparations. This was an incredible experience which I hope I can participate in again next year,” said VITA volunteer Cheryl Cook.

Volunteer Week celebrations will include a social media campaign that will spotlight key volunteers, their contributions to program areas, and educational projects throughout the state. 

“The continued impact of Extension volunteers is inspirational,” said Keri Hobbs, UGA Extension 4-H volunteer development specialist. “While I wish Volunteer Appreciation Week could be every week, I’m thrilled that we’ll celebrate volunteer service throughout our organization. Extension volunteers help us make a greater impact. They increase our reach to benefit more Georgians through our programs. They are essential to our success.” 

UGA Extension translates the science of everyday living for farmers, families and communities to foster a healthy and prosperous Georgia. To get involved, contact your local county Extension office at