Oregon County 4-H seeks out a stronger volunteer base
Oregon County Extension 4-H Club had seen a decline in interest several years ago, but that has changed. There are 45 children that are participating in what the county's 4-H has to offer, which isn't much. Rachel McDonald, Youth Program Assist and current 4-H Leader in Alton, is working hard to change that. Currently, there are less than 10 volunteers who help with the 45 children involved in 4-H.
As the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension System of land-grant universities, 4-H is the nation's largest youth development organization, empowering six million young people throughout the United States. With a network of more than 6 million youth, 611,800 volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 25 million alumni, 4-H helps shape youth to move our country and the world forward in ways that no other youth organization can.
McDonald explained there are 65 project areas for children to learn from in 4-H, but the problem is the Oregon County 4-H is only serving less than 10 of those areas. There are a lot of different categories the children could become involved in, if there was someone to lead them. Forming a strong volunteer base is on top of McDonald's to-do list for the organization.
The South Missourian News asked McDonald, "What would the volunteers need to be qualified to help with project areas?" "That is where a lot of mis information comes from. People think, I'm going to have to lead something or be in charge of everything. They just need to share their expertise," McDonald explained. One necessary requirement for volunteers is training. "We are talking about one hour. Volunteer training does two things. Number one, it protects the children because it screens the adults and another thing it does, is protects the adult in a 4-H activity because they are covered under insurance," explained McDonald. What it boils down to is training protects the children and adults involved in 4-H.
Sharing their knowledge of a subject over the course of time is another responsibility of a volunteer. "I want them to share their expertise. It takes six hours for a child to complete a project area," McDonald said. 4-H works with their volunteers, so a volunteer's schedule would be up to them. The volunteer could hold a two week course of three hour workshops or six weeks at one hour per session. "Let's just say you are a cake decorator and you think, 'I sure wish I could teach a kid how to decorate a cake,' but I don't want to get involved in a cake decorating class every week. One weekend in May and one in April of teaching a class on how to make flowers, then they could enter their cake into the fair," McDonald said.
Another area of interest McDonald would like to see covered in the organization is gardening. "Let's say you are a master gardener. Would you be interested in helping us come plant our garden? So the kids could have gardening. Would you be a resource so the kids would have someone to call?" The organization is currently seeking a gardening spot. "We are looking for a location that someone would donate a piece of unused land that would be perfect for gardening, preferably in city limits of Thayer and/or Alton," McDonald said.
While McDonald is very passionate about helping the children involved in the organization and seeing it flourish, it's really not her area. "I'm looking for someone to take over the Alton club. I'm really the Youth Program Assistant, so I'm not really supposed to be leading the club, but I haven't found anyone who is willing to take over the club," McDonald explained. She also explained that people fear there is too much paper work involved, but wants to assure anyone interested, there isn't.
People relate 4-H with just farming, but there are more areas involved. Oregon County 4-H currently has an innovative robotics course, shooting sports, photography and a few other interesting programs that are very active. While the children involved love what they have going on, they are interested in much more, which is why McDonald says there needs to be more volunteers.
To volunteer or learn more about 4-H, contact McDonald at 417-778-7490.