Published on 10/07/16

Georgia 4-H volunteer recognized with top national service award

By Merritt Melancon, Josh Paine

Chevy Chase, Maryland—Yvonne Childs, a 4-H Youth Development volunteer for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s Grady County office, was recognized as the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer during the National 4-H Council Heritage Luncheon on Friday, Oct. 7. Part of the National 4-H Salute to Excellence Awards, it is the most prestigious award given each year to a person with 10 or more years as a 4-H volunteer.

"Yvonne Childs is an extraordinary volunteer and we are grateful for her years of service and dedication to 4-H young people," said Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council. "Her 4-H work and commitment is a constant reminder that the life-changing 4-H experience would be impossible without caring adult mentors like Mrs. Childs."

Throughout her years of service, Childs has volunteered more than 57,000 hours with Georgia 4-H, serving as chaperone during decades of summer camps and masterfully coaching thousands of 4-H’ers on their District Project Achievement (DPA) presentations.

“Georgia 4-H volunteers are the unsung heroes of our program,” said Arch Smith, state leader for UGA Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program. “We appreciate the commitment and dedication of people like Yvonne Childs, who give unselfishly of their time and resources to help keep Georgia 4-H as one of the best 4-H programs in America. Yvonne is most deserving of this national recognition.”

If she had been a paid program assistant, Childs would have been entitled to close to $700,000 in salary for her work, but the three generations of Grady County students with whom she has worked think that number undervalues the impact that “Nonnie,” as they call her, has on had on their lives.

“It was this unequivocal commitment to helping kids do their best that made the impact,” said Denise Everson, former Grady County 4-H’er and 4-H agent, and current Family and Consumer Sciences program development coordinator for UGA Extension. “It was the one-on-one attention that made the impact, and she just didn’t do it for me … Working with her was an invitation into her family that you didn’t deserve and you didn’t ask for. She just gave it.”

Everson remembers Childs listening to her as she gave her DPA presentation over and over again during the spring of her junior and senior years of high school.

Like she’s done for countless other Grady County 4-H’ers, she invited Everson to her home for “DPA boot camp,” where 4-H’ers worked on their portfolios and presentations until they were perfect.

“She can get them to do things for her that they won’t do for anyone else,” Rehberg said.

In addition to the marathon practice sessions, Childs used the connections she made through years of civic work in Grady County to help find volunteer and public service activities for her 4-H’ers. According to Everson, seeing their efforts make an impact in the real world before they graduated high school helped Childs’ 4-H’ers take up civic leadership roles when they became adults.

“The thing that I learned from Mrs. Childs was that the things that you do are a statement of who you are, so do your best, whatever you do,” she said.

Over the years, Childs has also worked outside of Grady County to increase the impact of Georgia 4-H. As a veteran volunteer, she helped start the first 4-H Volunteer Leader Association in the state. Several other states adopted the model that she helped develop. Childs also helped support 4-H programs outside the U.S., hosting leaders and 4-H’ers from Asia and Latin America and making lifelong connections along the way.

“I know of no one else who has a softer spot in their heart for kids, all kinds of kids – her own kids, other people’s kids, regular kids, square kids, responsive kids and ungrateful kids,” said Harold Darden, associate state 4-H state leader emeritus, who, in a 2015 nomination letter, called Childs “that whirlwind of energy from Grady County.”

“She is determination with her fingers crossed, patience with a twinkle in her eye and zeal that observes no curfew,” he wrote.

As for Childs, she describes her time with Georgia 4-H as her career and her passion.

“It’s not what I’ve done for 4-H; it’s what 4-H has done for me and my family,” she said. “My children made so many friends in 4-H. They still have friends, even at their ages from 58 to 47 that they are still in contact with. They’re lifelong friends.”

Being part of building those connections between children and helping children achieve their potential has been a motivator for Childs, who is now in her 80s yet shows no signs of slowing down.

“4-H builds the leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “I believe that. I’ve believed it all my life and that’s why I’m so wrapped up in Georgia 4-H.”

For more information about how Georgia 4-H helps shape the youth of Georgia visit

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

Josh Paine is a marketing specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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