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Volunteers open doors for Mississippi 4-Hers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- If the mention of 4-H only brings to mind children and teenagers, you need to meet some adult volunteers with 60-plus years of service in the organization.
Thelma Harris of Adams County and Dessie Burks of Madison County, along with other adult volunteers, received special recognition during the 79th annual state 4-H Congress from June 2 through 4 at Mississippi State University. Hundreds of volunteer leaders and youth from across Mississippi were on campus for 4-H members to take part in various competitions and activities. Competition winners and adult volunteers with significant years of service were recognized at the annual awards banquet.
"It takes a lot of energy and dedication to work with young people, but the rewards are tremendous. The youth benefit from the volunteers' gifts and experiences, and the adults benefit from seeing young people grow and succeed," said Harvey Gordon, 4-H volunteer development specialist with MSU's Extension Service. "To volunteer your time and energy for 60 years takes very special people like Mrs. Burks and Mrs. Harris."
Gordon said many of the adult volunteer leaders, such as Burks, were once involved in the program as youth. Leaders often inspire youth to pursue college and professional careers.
"Many 4-H alums reflect on the benefits of their work in 4-H and want to encourage future generations to be involved in activities that will improve themselves, their communities and their world," Gordon said. "4-H is not about raising livestock or crops; it's about raising leaders and citizens."
At last year's Congress, Lucille R. Williams also received recognition for 60 years of service. In the early 1940s, Burks and Williams help start the Busy Bee 4-H Club, the largest club in Madison County. Both were active in 4-H as children. All nine of Burks' children and all five of Williams' children took part in 4-H, and both mothers said they believe it made a difference in their sons' and daughters' lives.
"We were poor and living in a rural area. We knew 4-H was the best way to get to go places and meet many people. 4-H helps broaden your world," Burks said. The 84-year-old stroke survivor continues to inspire youth and other volunteer leaders, many of whom are her former 4-Hers.
Williams, who is still active in club meetings, gives 4-H and church activities credit for keeping the close-knit Zion Chapel Community members together and involved in each others' lives.
Harris, an 85-year-old native of Natchez, was not able to take part in 4-H as a child because there were no clubs for local youth at that time. That changed when she served as the second president of the Adams County home demonstration clubs, now called homemaker volunteers. Most of the homemakers just assumed they should help 4-H clubs. Harris helped form the agriculture-based Sedgefield 4-H Club, which she continues to support.
"I love to teach children and watch them grow," said Harris, who never had children of her own. "We enjoyed taking the 4-H members on trips."