A recent study of 4-H volunteers in the North Central United States documents the types and levels of contributions made by volunteers that benefit youth, their communities, and the volunteers themselves.
More than half a million adults across the US give their time to the 4-H program and Extension.This is a lot of "people power". To put it in context, the YMCA and the American Red Cross -- two of the largest nonprofit organizations in the country -- are each supported by similar-sized corps of volunteers.
Extension 4-H Youth Development, a public organization, is a key actor in the landscape of programs that recruit volunteers to promote the positive development of youth in communities. We can quantify this by turning volunteer hours into dollar signs at the rate of just over $20 per hour. But there is more to it than that.
In this study, my colleagues and I learned, from the responses of more than 3,000 "mostly women living in rural communities" volunteers, that they:
- Tend to be college-educated and to stick around for several years of service, particularly when they themselves were 4-H members in their youth.
- Tend to spend as much time planning for and communicating plans with youth as they spend actually working with them.
- Give more than time -- they donate money, supplies, and mileage on their cars to the 4-H program.
- Need training and development as as much as they do a well run volunteer system.
We also learned that volunteers benefit from the relationship, and that their communities do, too. Volunteers told us that they directly benefit from:
- Opportunities to be involved with youth learning; in other words, the privilege to partner with young people in community settings
- Opportunities for personal growth, becoming better at public speaking or a specific skill
- Opportunities for contributing to the 4-H mission and giving back to the organization, being part of something "big"
- Becoming better connected and valued as member of their communities
The benefit they most often mentioned was that the 4-H volunteer experience contributed to their own pathway toward becoming a better person. This is both humbling and startling in a "we are all connected" sort of way. It is also incredibly difficult to quantify. This finding sheds new light on youth and adults as partners in youth programs, and their interdependence on one another in the community. Extension and 4-H are strong threads in the fabric of communities, and if we listen closely to 3,000-plus volunteers, one of those brightly-colored, extremely resilient threads is woven by volunteers in partnership with youth. Think about this.
How does your experience with volunteerism compare with the results of this study?
-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, state faculty and program leader, program evaluation
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