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4-H offers adults fall opportunities
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The search for worthwhile activities each fall inspires students and sometimes their parents to investigate 4-H for the opportunities it might offer families.
Harvey Gordon, state coordinator of 4-H volunteer development with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said most people only think of 4-H as an organization for youth.
"While 4-H is for young people, adult volunteers are the key to the program's success," Gordon said. "Volunteers give of themselves to youth, and the results are better individuals and better communities."
Gordon helps recruit and train adults to lead various types of 4-H clubs and activities across Mississippi. The most recent figures on the state's 4-H program indicates that almost 17,000 youth are members of 1,188 community-based clubs, 37,686 youth are in 1,072 special-interest groups, and 46,117 youth are in 1,134 school-enrichment groups.
"It takes a legion of adult volunteers to provide the educational activities and materials for all these youth," Gordon said. "The best way to know what it takes to be an adult 4-H volunteer is to see one in action."
Gordon cited Hattie Harris Kelly of Natchez as an "ideal volunteer" and one of Mississippi's top 4-H leaders. She exhibits important skills for working effectively with both youth and other adults.
"With 30 years of experience, Hattie has dedicated her life to developing young people," he said. "She is unselfish and goes the extra 10 miles -- whatever it takes to get a job done."
Another trait Gordon noted is her willingness to be a pioneer and take on new assignments, looking for opportunities to teach leadership and citizenship to the youth in her community. Kelly is open to new ideas from the state 4-H office as well as from local residents.
"We have taken part in many different projects. We've visited nursing homes and the Sunshine Shelter for children, painted 480 fire hydrants and picked up trash in the neighborhood," Kelly said. "I want children to learn how to take what they have and make what they want."
Kelly, whose five children all took part in 4-H when they were growing up, said the youth development program offers opportunities beyond their county lines.
"We have had 4-H'ers travel to Oregon, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and even Europe," Kelly said. "Leaders just need to help make youth aware of the opportunities 4-H offers. Many adults are reluctant to become leaders, but the support they receive from other volunteers and the state Extension office makes it much easier than they think it will be."
Kelly is a persuasive cheerleader in recruiting others to take part in 4-H, both as members and as leaders.
Geraldine Geyen, 4-H program associate in Adams County, said Kelly is dedicated in her efforts to help 4-H programs succeed and grow.
"When the state 4-H office suggests new programs, Hattie is among the first to get involved. She often will encourage other volunteer leaders and club members to take part," Geyen said. "Like any good volunteer leader, Hattie knows her community, and she knows how to get new leaders and youth involved."
For more information about becoming a 4-H volunteer or member, contact the local county Extension office in phone books under county listings.