On January 16, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a federal holiday, many of us will enjoy this Monday off from work. It makes for a nice long weekend, a short breather as we return from the holidays and prepare for another year on the job.
But I want to ask you to think of MLK Day in a different light. As a civil rights leader, Dr. King challenged us to create a beloved community, one with greater diversity, equity and inclusion for all Americans. He was a pivotal force for uplifting our fellow men and women.
In a sermon in Birmingham, Alabama, he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” In the spirit of Dr. King, and in a sincere effort to answer his challenge, MLK Day has been set aside, not just as a holiday, but as a day of service.
Think of it not as a day off, but as a day on.
A day of service is a chance to give back to your community, to help others less fortunate than yourself, or simply to join others in making your neighborhood a better place for all to live. By volunteering your time, your effort, your experience and expertise—your ‘sweat equity’ as it’s called—you share the best you have to give. Volunteer work makes a real monetary contribution to your community. Analysis by Independent Sector estimates that every hour of volunteer work is worth $28.54 to the community being helped.
It’s also surprisingly good for your health. A 2017 study revealed that 75 percent of people polled who had volunteered said that the experience made them feel physically healthier. They reported lower stress, higher self-esteem, and improved overall mood. Volunteer service is a great way to learn new skills, meet new people and enrich your life.
Here at UF/IFAS Extension, volunteers are a key part of our organization. They are the facilitators and ambassadors of our mission to bring research-based education to the people of Florida. In 2020, 19,888 Extension volunteers contributed a total of 567,434 hours of service. That’s over $16 million in sweat equity.
UF/IFAS Extension has a variety of volunteer programs with flexible options. You can decide your level of involvement, based on your skills and the time you have available. Many involve working closely with Extension agents to gain training, curricula and other resources that will support you in your volunteer role.
Here are just a few of our volunteer programs I want to call out:
Florida 4-H, UF/IFAS Extension’s youth development program, needs adult volunteers to act as club leaders, judges, chaperones, camp counselors, and other roles to create fun educational programs for youth. More than 7,000 adult and youth volunteers create a caring environment for youth, serving as mentors, coordinating local community clubs, and helping to plan and run events.
When you volunteer with 4-H, you become an instrumental figure in inspiring the next generation by helping youth ages 5-18 learn the skills they need to prepare for careers in the 21st century.
In 4-H, youth learn by doing, which means that volunteers get a chance to share their expertise, whether it’s cooking, engineering, public speaking, finance, making clothes or creating art.
If you’re interested in being a youth mentor while having the time of your life, contact your local county Extension office to learn about 4-H in your county and discuss your possibilities with your 4-H Agent.
Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program
Being a Florida Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) is much more than helping out —you’re learning from experts to become an expert yourself and joining a community of people who are ready to share their experience and support.
MGVs serve as horticulture experts within their communities. They teach gardening classes, answer questions over the phone or in person, participate in community and school garden projects, perform soil sample and plant diagnostic testing, certify Florida-friendly landscapes and many other essential tasks.
Each Master Gardener Volunteer receives 50+ hours in training given by UF/IFAS Extension horticulture agents. Once you graduate with an MGV certificate, you’ll complete 75 hours of service within the first year, then 10 learning hours and 35 hours’ service each year you participate after that. It’s a commitment — but also a commitment to yourself.
In 2020, MGVs gave a total of 186,000 hours of service, worth $4.6 million to the citizens of Florida.
If you love gardening, are interested in learning more and sharing your knowledge, think about becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer. The first step is to contact your local county Extension office.
LAKEWATCH volunteers play an important role in protecting a resource we all need—water. Florida LAKEWATCH is a citizen science volunteer program that monitors water quality in Florida’s lakes, rivers and coastal sites. After participating in 1-2 hours of hands-on training, LAKEWATCH volunteers take water samples once per month on their local waterbodies. They collect data on water depth, water clarity and nutrient and algae content, which helps environmental scientists gauge water quality and inform important decisions about water management.
LAKEWATCH is now one of the largest water monitoring programs in the nation, with over 1,800 trained citizens currently monitoring 525 lakes, 175 estuary stations, 125 river stations, 20 coastal dune lakes and 10 spring runs in 57 Florida counties.
As a LAKEWATCH volunteer, you can also participate in the angler fish diary program and the aquatic bird survey.
If you love being out on the water, participating as a LAKEWATCH volunteer is a great way to add citizen science and environmental monitoring to your weekend plans.
You can learn how to become a LAKEWATCH volunteer at https://lakewatch.ifas.ufl.edu/for-volunteers/
UF/IFAS Extension has many more volunteer opportunities, and there are hundreds of ways to serve within every community in Florida.
As Dr. King once said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” Starting this MLK weekend, why not use your day off to serve your community? This can be an opportunity to realize the greatness within you.