In 2010, the Georgia 4-H Southwest District Program Development Coordinator, Laura Perry Johnson, established a collaboration with the AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) program as a way to extend the capacity of 4-H youth programs and strengthen their impact in southwest Georgia. To date, more than 55 full-time VISTAs have dedicated a full year of service to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension's 4-H program.
“It warms my heart to see the success of the Georgia 4-H VISTA program!” said Johnson, now associate dean for Extension in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “We started this program during the depths of the recession to add much-needed capacity to our workforce in 4-H. Our VISTA service members have contributed greatly to building that capacity by recruiting volunteers, creating infrastructure, developing funds and much more.”
Currently led by Georgia 4-H Volunteer Specialist Keri Hobbs, four full-time VISTAs and five summer associates serve Georgia 4-H across the state. At the close of 2019, VISTA members had collectively raised more than $611,000 in cash resources, developed more than $66,000 in non-cash resources and recruited more than 3,150 volunteers.
“VISTA members selflessly give of their time and talents to develop systems and partners that ultimately benefit the youth of Georgia,” said Hobbs. “Due to the partnership of UGA Extension, Georgia 4-H and the Corporation of National and Community Service over the past 10 years, I’ve seen many county 4-H programs expand to serve new audiences, find and strengthen community partnerships and grow with diverse fundraising strategies. I’ve also seen VISTA members grow professional skills, enhance connections and develop personally.”
Johnson says another bonus of the program is that it attracts a great talent pool for UGA Extension to recruit new employees.
“After having worked with our organization for a year in the capacity of VISTA, we are always delighted to hire them into our permanent workforce when we can,” she said.
Georgia 4-H has been awarded a grant with the Corporation for National and Community Service to provide five VISTA summer associates that will engage in direct service focusing on developing the healthy habits in youth programming and assisting with local food insecurities. Summer associates are currently being recruited to serve from June 5 to July 30 in Clayton, Emanuel, Fulton, Jackson and Seminole county Extension programs.
The deadline to apply for one of these positions is May 4, 2020. In addition, a full-term year-round VISTA is being recruited to serve Jackson County Extension with an application deadline of April 14, 2020. More information can be found at georgia4h.org/get-involved/vista.
“The Georgia 4-H VISTA program has surpassed even my ambitious expectations! I am grateful for the partnership with the Corporation of National and Community Service and look forward to a continued relationship with the AmeriCorps VISTA program,” said Johnson.
Georgia 4-H empowers youth to become true leaders by developing necessary life skills, positive relationships and community awareness. As the largest youth leadership organization in the state, 4-H reaches more than 242,000 people annually through the UGA Extension offices and 4-H facilities. For more information, visit georgia4h.org or contact your local Extension office.