Even in the midst of a global pandemic, volunteers have continued to make a positive impact for Georgians of all ages. Throughout Volunteer Appreciation Week April 19-23, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is honoring thousands of volunteers who have dedicated their time to facilitate 4-H, Master Gardener and Family and Consumer Sciences programming at the county, district and state levels.
During the 2019-2020 program year, Georgia 4-H adult and teen volunteers from across the state devoted more than 132,700 hours — at a value of more than $3.6 million — to the development of youth through 4-H programs. These hours were cumulated by 7,119 adult and teen 4-H volunteers, including more than 1,617 adult chaperones at district and statewide events; 1,801 teen leaders assisting with programs; 1,099 certified Project Achievement judges; 301 youth club leaders for local and statewide programming, and many other critical roles.
“Even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, 4-H found a way to keep making the best better by using technology as a tool to help others," said Rhonda Dunnaway, a 4-H volunteer who works with Gordon County 4-H Agent Allie Griner on 'everything.'
Elbert County 4-H volunteer Tracy Brown said, “I enjoyed judging Cotton Boll and Consumer Judging, even if it was virtually. They [the youth] were imaginative with their presentations, they did not let the virtual format hinder their creativity.”
According to Keri Hobbs, UGA Extension 4-H volunteer development specialist, volunteers like Dunnaway and Brown make an immeasurable difference to 4-H programs. “Every day they’re extending the capacity of Georgia 4-H and enabling us to reach more young people with positive youth development,” she said.
During the 2020 calendar year, Master Gardener Extension Volunteers (MGEVs) from across the state contributed 111,065 hours — at a value of $3 million — to support Extension programming in consumer horticulture. These hours were the cumulative product of more than 2,200 MGEVs who meet state criteria for active status. In addition, these volunteers devoted more than 7,100 hours to continuing education to keep their information current and skills sharp.
Agents and program coordinators enjoy the enthusiasm and talents of MGEVs. “Someone once told me that the finest people I would meet are Master Gardeners. I know for a fact that is true,” says Karin Hicks, Master Gardener coordinator for UGA Extension in Hall County.
Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Agent and Coordinator Paul Pugliese in Bartow County said, “the Master Gardener program is a labor of love and service for the community.”
Alicia Holloway, ANR Extension agent for Barrow County, agrees. “No matter what the need, (MGEVs) are there and ready to make it happen.”
“Volunteers do not serve out of a desire for recognition. They serve because they want to make a difference. Appreciation from agents provides reassurance that MGEVs contribute in a meaningful and productive way,” says Sheri Dorn, state Extension Master Gardener Volunteer coordinator. “Master Gardeners tell me there is a certain sense of self-accomplishment that comes from helping others.”
The Family and Consumers Sciences area of Extension reported more than 1,100 volunteer engagements by individuals supporting programming in a number of roles, such as teaching food demonstrations and volunteering at senior centers, assisting with event management, soliciting donations, and many other important roles around the state.
Several Extension volunteers have been recognized for their achievements and dedication to volunteerism. Melvina Carlan, a longtime Georgia 4-H volunteer serving Pickens County, was honored as the 2020 National 4-H Council’s Southern Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year. More than 270 recognition awards were given to Master Gardeners for years of service, including 101 five-year, 95 10-year, 43 15-year, 27 20-year, two 25-year, and five 30-plus-year awards.
These and countless other outstanding contributions are why Extension is taking the time to honor these volunteers.
“The continued dedication of Extension volunteers, even amid a global pandemic, is inspiring,” says Hobbs. “I always say — I wish we could celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week every week. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled that we’ll recognize and appreciate Extension volunteer service throughout our organization. They are mission-critical and essential to our success. They help us make a larger impact and reach more Georgians through our programs.”
Volunteer Week celebrations will include a social media campaign that will spotlight key volunteers and their contributions to program areas.
UGA Extension translates the science of everyday living for farmers, families and communities to foster a healthy and prosperous Georgia. To contact your local county Extension office and become involved, visit extension.uga.edu.