Peace Corps workers help needy people in developing countries. Here in Georgia, the Domestic Peace Corps program AmeriCorps provides workers that help Georgia 4-H agents raise funds and reach children in low-income counties and across the state.
The Corporation for National and Community Service funds AmeriCorps Programs. Georgia 4-H is supported by two separate AmeriCorps grants; the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program and the state program. VISTA members focus on in-direct projects that fight poverty through organizational capacity building while members of the state program focus on addressing critical community needs.
Grant funding helps during budget cuts
“Having faced extreme budget cuts over the past three years, our partnership with the AmeriCorps program has allowed us to continue to deliver 4-H to the youth of Georgia with the same standard of excellence we have in the past,” said Beverly Sparks, dean of University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. “Over the past three years, the VISTA program has helped eight persistent poverty counties engage youth in programs that help them succeed in school and prepare them to be successful leaders in their communities. And, the new AmeriCorps State Program provides 16 AmeriCorps members who reach youth through educational programming across the state.”
In honor of AmeriCorps Week (March 9-17), Georgia 4-H is recognizing its two AmeriCorps programs and their members.
Georgia 4-H’s VISTA members serve for one year in either the Georgia 4-H state office in Athens or one of seven 4-H offices in Calhoun/Early, Colquitt, Houston, Jackson, Lowndes, Randolph or Sumter counties. Seventeen VISTA workers have served the Georgia 4-H program since 2010.
As of January 2013, 4-H AmeriCorps VISTA members have cumulatively raised $469,027, $47,769 non-cash resources, produced more than 361 various marketing pieces for different 4-H events, and have recruited a total of 387 volunteers for Georgia 4-H. AmeriCorps VISTA members are also responsible for gaining two grants worth $20,000 to support the Georgia Operation Military Kids (OMK) Program, camps and workshops designed specifically for children with a parent in the military.
“VISTA is aimed at fighting poverty,” said Jeff Buckley, leader of global and citizenship programs for Georgia 4-H. “Research shows that youth who are involved in programs like 4-H do better in school, are less likely to participate in risky behaviors and are more likely to be contributing members of their community.”
Working in Sumter County, Britney Johnson knows she cannot possibly address all of the 4-H communities needs within a year. "The most challenging thing has been noticing all of the needs of a community and realizing that you can't provide them all, " she said.
VISTA worker Cindy Edwards in Calhoun County also understands she won’t be able to change everything at once. The mother of three and former PTO president has a strong desire to work with children. “My hope is to encourage (my 4-H’ers) to follow their dreams and realize their potential through education and determination,” she said.
Janelle Jelks was looking for “something different than the average 8 to 5 job” when she became a VISTA worker in the Colquitt County 4-H office. “I truly believe that if given the opportunity and an environment conducive to learning, every child can indeed learn,” she said.
The AmeriCorps state members teach 4-H’ers about childhood obesity, support 4-H military families and build youth development programs. Paid through a state grant from the AmeriCorps Organization, the workers are located in Appling, Banks, Barrow, Clayton, Coffee, County, Decatur, Haralson, Hart, Laurens, Muscogee, Paulding, Tift, Turner, Union and Washington Counties.
The most recent crop of specialists contributed more 10,000 hours in service to Georgia 4-H in the last five months.
In Coffee County, Alyse Hall holds 4-H meetings with 1,200 fifth and sixth graders each month. Her help is invaluable to the 4-H program assistant and 4-H agent, the only full-time Extension agent in the county.
“Both of them have a desire to see our youth learn and grow, and with the added help and support I provide through AmeriCorps, we are all able to do our jobs better,” Hall said. “And we are able to focus on the kids more individually.”
Hall has led Coffee County 4-H’ers in community projects like Adopt-a-Highway and Pet Therapy as well as several organized fundraisers.
In Banks County, Caitlin Bennett made history by organizing the first Hip-Hop Club, a nontraditional livestock project that uses rabbits instead of cows or pigs.
“Rabbits are perfect for the kids who can’t raise livestock either because of limited space or low income,” she said. “The club members will be responsible for raising a live rabbit for three months, attend classes and complete a record book. All of these factors will teach them all the life skills that are usually learned in livestock projects.”
Ash Bailey uses her child and family development degree to teach healthy lifestyles lessons to 4-H’ers in Decatur County. She recently taught the students how to incorporate a healthy diet into their pets’ lives. The students made handmade peanut butter dog biscuits for the local Humane Society.
“Through Georgia 4-H and AmeriCorps, I have been given the privilege of maximizing my volunteerism and watching children learn and experience new things through 4-H while becoming successful individuals,” Bailey said.
Dean Sparks says UGA Extension hopes to continue its partnership with AmeriCorps. “The AmeriCorps’ mission of engaging citizens in service fits perfectly with Cooperative Extension’s mission of improving the lives of all Georgians,” she said.
As part of the 2013 National AmeriCorps week, Georgia 4-H has featured member profiles and success stories at www.georgia4h.org/vista/ and www.georgia4h.org/americorps/. For more information about AmeriCorps, see the organization’s Web site at www.americorps.gov/. For specific questions about the AmeriCorps programs through Georgia 4-H, contact Jeff Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-542-8735.