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Highlighting the Impact of Volunteers

Nifa Author
Rachel Dotson, Public Affairs Specialist (Social Media)

Within the 4-H community there is a network of over 500,000 volunteers helping support and mentor six million 4-H’ers, according to the 4-H website. These volunteers play a vital role in helping grow the next generation of leaders.

As 4-H’s federal partner, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recognizes the value in volunteering and through various programs that support adult and youth volunteers. During National Volunteer Month, learn how NIFA funding is helping individuals who are positively impacting their communities and those around them through 4-H.

Around 18% of Norfolk, Virginia, residents currently live below the federal poverty level, according to the United States Census. In Portsmouth, 18.5% of the population lives below federal poverty levels. Under the guidance of Agriculture and Natural Resources Horticulture Extension agents in the Chesapeake, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth areas, Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers are addressing food shortages through a multi-faceted approach: direct donations of fresh garden produce-contributions to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia; creation of demonstration gardens to teach people how to grow their own food; participation in the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program; and healthy food preparation information to area residents. In 2020, donations of fresh, locally grown produce exceeded 16,500 pounds. These contributions to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia helped provide 14,000 nutritious meals at a cost of only 32 cents per meal. 

Volunteer teen health advocates are building skills and giving back to their communities through the University of Idaho (UI) Extension’s Well Connected Communities (WCC) initiative. The WCC program is part of a national effort to establish health coalitions that can drive health improvement strategies and train community wellness volunteers. Working with the national WCC evaluation team and the Center for Community Health and Evaluation, Extension educators asked 10 4-H health advocates participating in WCC to share their thoughts and opinions through an online survey in June 2020. On average, teens reported a positive WCC experience and indicated they have the social, emotional and leadership abilities necessary for academic and workplace success. 

Through the University of Missouri Extension, 4-H clubs across Missouri have collected more than three quarters of a million meals to feed hungry families over the last three years through the 4-H Feeding Missouri program. Each year, Missouri counties compete in a friendly competition to collect the most meals for food-insecure families in the state. Volunteers host food drives, collect monetary donations and spend time in local food pantries. Cass County 4-H was the 2021 winner, providing 53,104 meals for their neighbors in need.

NIFA’s 4-H and Division of Youth works to assure a trained 4-H workforce (paid and volunteer) by collaborating, connecting state partners, convening a professional development working group and highlighting quality resources available to the Cooperative Extension system. Learn more here.

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