Doing the “Heart” Work

A couple, a man with a black and red jacket and a woman with a tan cardigan, stands next to a wooden railing located outside with trees and water in the background.

For Mattie and Willie Williams, it’s always been about the children. They first got involved with the MSU Extension Service through 4-H when their children were young.

“I wanted them to be part of something that was safe, where they could learn,” Mattie explains. “My cousin, who has kids the same age as ours, got me involved. First, I was just driving the kids to and from meetings, and Willie would drive when I couldn’t. Then I became a leader for the Delta Workers 4-H Club.”

Both parents wanted their children to learn the same valuable life skills they learned when they grew up. For Mattie, that meant gardening, and for Willie, hunting and processing wild game. But with two sons and three daughters, they soon found themselves involved in all kinds of different projects.

“I like to be around kids, especially the little ones, and, when I first started working, we taught preschool children in Head Start. I like to see their faces light up when they learn something.”


Mattie Williams

“Public speaking, dancing, hog judging, dog care, government; we even went to Washington, D.C.!” she recalls. “My second-oldest daughter went through every trip 4-H had to offer. Back then, it was complicated because I was a stay-at home mom, but we sold candy to help defray her costs.”

As their children grew up, went to college, and pursued careers in science, Mattie and Willie continued to volunteer with 4-H. She also maintained her involvement with the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers while Willie worked.

Then one day, she received a phone call from Extension home economist Deborah Mullen- Grayum.

A man wearing a red hat stands next to a smiling woman pointing at a poster that says "Mississippi Runs Deep."
Mattie and Willie Williams know that Mississippi Runs Deep.

“Mattie, I know how you love children and how well you interact with them; I think we might have a job you’d be interested in,” Mullen-Grayum said.

Thus began Mattie’s 24.5-year career teaching children about nutrition through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

Eventually, the Williams’s grandchildren began asking where their parents got all of their trophies. Soon Willie was resurrecting the long-abandoned 4-H Safe Archery & Firearms Education & Training for Youth, 4-H S.A.F.E.T.Y., program in Washington County and recruiting new volunteers.

“We have a lot of people in their 30s and 40s who have come along to take up the hard work, and I just get to offer counsel,” Willie observes. “You teach people to teach each other. 4-H offers skills people don’t get elsewhere. 4-H is one of the better programs in the nation for kids. It teaches them real life, what they’ll deal with when they grow up.”

“Take a kid who doesn’t know anything, and watch him hit a bullseye—then it’s all joy. It’s about the kids, listening to people, and having an open heart to take it all in.”


Willie Williams

Alma Harris, Washington County coordinator for Extension, said the Williamses have been her “go-to” people for years. From chaperoning busloads of teens at State 4-H Congress to running Kids in the Kitchen, they have done a little bit of everything in service to their community.

“They bring a lot of wisdom to the 4-H program,” Harris shares. “They’re very dependable and honest, and great examples to the kids. They’re always there when you need them. We call them when we’ve got to have someone, and they don’t ask why. They are just going to be here for us, no matter what.”

Mattie and Willie agree that their work with Extension programs has taught them a variety of skills and helped them develop patience.

But, at the end of the day, children are still the heart of their motivation.

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