Doing the “Heart” Work

A woman standing behind a green sign that reads "Oktibbeha County 4-H."
Rose Coffey-Graham, 4-H volunteer

4-H volunteer invests in community kids

When Rose Coffey-Graham first began teaching children, she was just 7 years old and pressed into service by local families who needed someone to watch their kids while they picked cotton. Her teaching materials?

“I had a big tree to sit under and some cardboard, and I acted as if I was the adult,” she remembers.

She and the children made toys out of discarded boxes, and Rose wrote poetry to read to them. A local woman gave her some books, and soon Rose was teaching the other kids how to read with an early copy of The Cat in the Hat.

A lifetime resident of Oktibbeha County, Rose occasionally runs into her first students.

“They still remember sitting under that tree,” she says with a smile.

Most people who interact with Rose find her memorable. She exudes joy, enthusiasm, energy, and creativity that she willingly shares with others.

“Ideas don’t come to me at 2 in the morning for me to keep them to myself!” she declares.

So it comes as no surprise that Rose has received the Lifetime 4-H Volunteer Award and has taught 4-H club members how to make the best better since the

early 1980s.

At age 16, Rose noticed there wasn’t much for young people to do in rural Oktibbeha County. She met with Grenell Rogers, then the Extension agent in Oktibbeha County. Rose was too young to be a 4-H volunteer, but she began a club when she turned 18 and was a student at Mississippi State University.

Through the years, Rose has led the Controllers Generation I and Generation II clubs. Her children have been members and volunteers, and her daughter, Jameka Harkins, is now a co-leader. The current club is famous for its community service projects. Awards for individual members, the leaders, and the club fill a trophy case at the Greensboro Center in Starkville. But that’s just this year’s awards. The rest are in a storage unit, because there wasn’t room for all of them anywhere else.

In 2016, the Controllers Generation II club received the 4-H Banner Club Governor’s Award for being the top club in the state. They also received the Volunteer Starkville Spirit Award.

Rose’s list of personal awards is lengthy. In addition to a 2015 President’s Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama and a 2015 Starkville Community Volunteer of the Year award, in 2016 Rose received the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence (GIVE) award for Outstanding Service in Strengthening Families.

Each year, Rose organizes a variety of activities for 4-H members that tie them closely to their community. From book drives and breast cancer awareness campaigns to nursing home visits and parent-child programs, the 58 members in her club are constantly learning, growing, and giving back.

Rose receives encouragement from her husband, Robert; her children and grandchildren; and her large extended family. She also values her church family at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, whose members offer their support for every program Rose dreams up in the middle of the night.

Rose’s advice to others is to get busy volunteering and giving back.

“Showcase your talent,” she pleads. “You have something to offer! Share it with others!”

Rose is well-known and admired by everyone in the state 4-H office at MSU.

“The 4-H program would be extremely difficult without the dedication of our volunteers,” said Larry Alexander, Extension professor and 4-H specialist. “Rose sets the bar high when it comes to volunteerism, because she leads her club with enthusiasm and sincere interest in all of her members. She works hard to show them through her personal example the importance of integrity, service to others, and giving back to the community. We are incredibly blessed to have her as part of the 4-H family.”

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By Keri Collins Lewis

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Extension Matters cover volume 3 number 1.

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