April 17-24 is National Volunteer Week. What a great opportunity to celebrate the people who lend their time, effort and talents to make a difference in their community! In UF/IFAS Extension, we would be lost without our volunteers. They act as the facilitators and ambassadors of our mission to bring science-based education to the people of Florida. In 2020, Extension programming in 67 Florida counties was supported by help from 19,888 volunteers who gave a total of 567,434 hours of service. That amounts to more than $16 million in labor–but in truth the value of our volunteers goes far beyond that.
In 2020, UF/IFAS Extension was supported by 19,888 volunteers, who gave a total of 567,434 hours of service to the people of Florida.
Volunteering with Extension is more than lending a hand. Each volunteer works closely with Extension agents to gain training—often very extensive training—that supports their volunteer role. It makes them true partners with our faculty and staff.
Extension volunteers are a unique breed—lifelong learners, eager to invest their time and share their knowledge and expertise with others for the betterment of their communities.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize a few of the volunteer programs that support Extension programming:
Florida Master Money Mentors
Florida Master Money Mentors volunteer their time and skills to help residents develop good money management habits, achieving their financial goals while reducing debt and managing spending. Mentors work one-on-one with clients, or conduct small group classes or staff tables at community events.
Thanks to funding from Bank of America, over the past decade Extension has trained more than 600 volunteers, each of whom give 50+ hours of service annually, an estimated $2,044,080 in human capital.
Some mentors also choose to serve as tax preparers for our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. In 2019, volunteers in 9 Florida and 3 Georgia counties helped prepare 411 tax returns, and saved residents an average of $188 per return.
Master Money Mentors are active in 40 Florida counties and the program continues to expand to areas where it’s needed the most, including rural areas and city centers hit hardest by high unemployment and home foreclosures.
Florida 4-H Volunteers
Every day, Florida 4-H volunteers are making a positive difference in the lives of children. By creating a safe and caring environment for learning in 4-H clubs, camps and school programs, they help youth develop marketable skills, gain confidence and independence, encourage generosity towards others and foster a sense of belonging. Florida 4-H volunteers serve as club leaders, camp counselors, project leaders, mentors and judges at events. It is very hard work, but it’s rewarded in knowing that you’ve helped set a child on a path of self-confidence and success.
In 2020, Florida 4-H was grateful for the help of 7,821 youth and adult volunteers, who created caring learning environments for over 151,000 4-H youth.
Master Gardener Volunteers
Florida Master Gardener Volunteers 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.
In 2021, more than 4,000 Florida MGVs gave 194,600 hours of service to the people of Florida.
Master Gardener Volunteers are rightfully proud of the work they do in their communities. You can hear many MGVs share their stories here: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/features/
There are many other volunteers we wish to thank. In fact, most UF/IFAS Extension programs are supported to various degrees by help from volunteers. They come from all walks of life and bring their unique experiences and knowledge to the table. They can be everything from high school students to retired teachers to business owners to scuba divers. They all share one thing in common: the desire to serve their community.
On Volunteer Week and all other weeks of the year, I applaud your commitment to knowledge, and I thank you for your service!
To learn more about UF/IFAS Extension volunteer programs—or just to thank a volunteer—contact your local Extension office: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/
Volunteers do not necessarily have the time—they just have the heart. – Elizabeth Andrew