2015: Year of the Volunteer

The Illinois Senate has declared 2015 the "Year of the Volunteer". This is not a random labeling of a year, but one that takes into account the benefits of volunteerism.

According to the November 2014 Harvard Health Letter, volunteering allows an individual to "let go of the inward focus [and] focus on others", which is associated with lessening of physical and emotional aches and pains. Studies of volunteers indicate healthy outcomes such as lower blood pressure, less depression, greater well-being, and higher self-esteem. Studies even indicate those that volunteer or give support to others have a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying. (Harvard Health, Nov 2014)

So what is the function of an Extension volunteer? Those Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, or 4-H leaders reading this probably know what I'm about to write. The duty of an Extension volunteer is to extend the knowledge of the university. To accept an obligation to do right by their community. Embrace a willingness to help others. And hopefully have a little fun along the way.

What comes with being an Extension volunteer? We train and prepare you for things known and unknown. I have found it is the unknowns that usually result in the most thrilling and greatest learning experience. What comes after training is often immeasurable. Yes, hours are reported and attendance numbers submitted, but how do you quantify the impact of teaching a child a new skill? Seeing hands, crippled with age, come alive as they touch the soil? Teaching a family how to grow their own food? Indeed these items are immeasurable and testament to the Harvard studies that volunteerism can give back to the volunteer.

Extension offices across the state are looking to recruit Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and 4-H volunteers. The requirements are little and the benefits are great. So please contact your local Extension office and come join us!

I want to thank all those volunteers (Extension and otherwise) for the work you do in our communities. 2015 is here and the spotlight is on you. Let's make it a great year!