URBANA, Ill. – Volunteers are core to University of Illinois Extension's success improving families and communities. Last year, more than 9,100 volunteers gave over 184,000 hours of service to the organization. Those hours are valued at over $5.5 million dollars statewide.
"Without them, we would have a hard time organizing our 4-H clubs and programs, planting our community gardens, conserving our nature preserves, training our public leaders, and educating youth and their families about healthy living," Nickols-Richardson says. "We count on their reliability, readiness, and resilience."
The outreach arm of University of Illinois, the 100-year+ organization is tasked with extending the unbiased, research-based knowledge of the university to families, businesses, and communities. Its efforts are multiplied by the passionate volunteer workforce who give generously of their time and talent.
Master Gardeners are one of Illinois Extension's strongest volunteer programs. Even in a year riddled with participation restrictions from COVID-19, over 2,640 Master Gardeners donated nearly 93,000 hours. They problem-solve public inquiries for plant issues, work in community gardens, and offer educational programs and activities.
"Extension Master Naturalists are passionate about preserving the prairie state's natural legacy for future generations," says Extension Master Naturalist state coordinator Chris Evans. More than 1,000 volunteers spent over 48,000 hours on projects, including collecting prairie seeds for restoration projects, teaching youth about natural areas, assisting in the removal of invasive species, and performing water quality tests.
Extension's volunteer Money Mentors work one-on-one with individuals to help make plans to pay down debt, save for dreams, and get finances organized. New mentor training begins June 10. For more information, visit: extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/money-mentors.
From robotics and photography to baking and fishing, the vast experience of Illinois 4-H volunteers enrich the lives of the 200,000 4-H participants annually. In addition to 4-H club volunteers, adults and youth help with workshops, camps, and afterschool programs.
"Communities are stronger because of the impact of 4-H volunteers," says Illinois Extension 4-H leadership specialist Patricia McGlaughlin. "In addition to the help they give youth, 4-H volunteers gain skills in teaching, leadership, and communication that are useful in their work and lives outside of 4-H."
In a recent national 4-H survey conducted by McGlaughlin and a team of 4-H specialists, 78% of volunteers indicate their 4-H volunteer experience has increased their own civic engagement in the communities they live; 84% indicated they made community connections on behalf of 4-H.
Of the nearly 3,000 volunteers surveyed, 53% were Gen X'ers (age 41 to 56), 63% had been in 4-H as a child, and 37% had volunteer for more than 10 years. In addition, 96% of those responding indicated they contributed supplies to the program, and 89% donated money to the organization.
ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.