In 4-H, youth learn by doing, build important life skills, and have fun, often thanks to local volunteers. During the 2019 4-H year, these individuals gave more than 30,500 hours to DuPage, Kane and Kendall County 4-H youth programs, which is a value of $794,339, according to Independent Sector Illinois.
“Volunteering is a rewarding way to give back to your community or to inspire the next generation,” said Deanna Roby-Vorgias, University of Illinois Extension County Director. “Through 4-H, adults can teach youth practical skills, encourage them to be good citizens, or provide education in a specific area. Volunteers may serve on an advisory committee, judge 4-H projects, teach a workshop, lead a club, or provide support to the program in other ways.”
Dave Klussendorf, a past 4-H member, has been a long-time Illinois 4-H volunteer, helping with 4-H shows and serving on his local 4-H Foundation board and on the tri-county Extension Council.
“People helped me when I was in 4-H, and it helped me become a better person in many areas,” he said. “This is my chance to help others improve their skills, confidence, and knowledge like others did for me.”
Plenty of 4-H volunteers are not 4-H alums, but they share the goal of providing positive role models for today’s young people.
Magda Emmert, a Kendall County 4-H club leader, said she volunteers because she wants to be actively involved with her children’s development and that she wanted to help other youth and families.
“I value the multitude of projects, learning and service opportunities available through 4-H,” she said. “Being bilingual also enables me to open up opportunities for Spanish speaking families to be involved with 4-H.”
One key benefit of the volunteer-driven 4-H program, is that it provides youth the opportunity to connect to caring adults. These bonds help youth feel valued so they can thrive at home, school and work. In a 2018 4-H survey, 95 percent of local 4-H youth reported that they have built these important bonds through 4-H.
“Youth see that volunteers care about them, and give of their own time, talents, and knowledge to assist in their development,” said Klussendorf. “Having been a volunteer for years now, I have seen many youth in the 4-H program develop into confident young adults with better social skills, and more knowledge about themselves, their project areas, and of others.”
“If you’re interested in volunteering with 4-H, we can help you find a role that matches your unique interests, availability and schedule,” said Roby-Vorgias.
There is a wide range of opportunities available:
Teach a skill: All of us have something we enjoy and do well, from gardening and programming robots to cooking and crafting. There are many ways for you to share that skill, from teaching one-time workshops to organizing a club devoted to your area of specialty.
Lead a club: Some clubs have members who explore several different areas of interest – we call these projects. Other clubs focus on a shared interest or single project. As a leader of either kind of club, your role is to encourage and guide youth in their explorations and use your skills to help kids discover what matters to them. Help youth set goals, foster a sense of belonging and independence, inspire a generous spirit, and master skills that will prepare them for their future.
Judge projects: 4-H allows members to demonstrate their project learning in several different ways. Members present an exhibit, speech, or performance to show off their learning. Judges provide valuable critique and offer encouragement and concrete suggestions for improvement. Most judging takes place at the county fair each summer.
Plan or help at an event: Several activities are held to help members learn about topics of interest, serve their community, or promote the 4-H program. Volunteer support for the planning of these events ensures local needs are met and adequate supervision is provided. Events might include community service projects, International Night, 4-H yearly kick off events, Achievement Night and more.
Serve on an advisory board: Local advisory boards are responsible for determining program priorities, ensuring the needs of all youth in the community are met, and expanding the 4-H program to new audiences.