The Personal Benefits of Volunteering: My Experience with 4-H

National Volunteer Appreciation week April 10-16 made me think about how much I get from volunteering and I wanted to share my thoughts. It is great to devote a special time to let volunteers know how much they are appreciated, but I think I get as much benefit from volunteering as I give.

Volunteering for 4-H

Trina and husband wearing 4-H shirts at roller skating event

I’m a project leader for 4-H which is a national organization offering youth development and mentoring programs. They consider it “Preparing young people to make a positive impact in their communities and the world.”

These young people are doing hands-on learning in the areas of science, citizenship and healthy living and after much thought, I wanted to be a part of it. Helping shape our future leaders gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as well as boosting my self-confidence and opportunities to meet people in our new community.

Chance to Volunteer with My Husband

I started volunteering in a very ordinary way. My husband was a member in his 4-H club since the age of 8 and he wanted to get involved again and give back to the community as an adult. Prior to this, the only adult volunteering I did was raising money for different charities that involved being in a walk/run or a fitness challenge. Since I loved working with kids, I thought I would go through the process with him and it would be an activity we could do together.

Process of Becoming a 4-H Leader Volunteer

The process of becoming a 4-H leader volunteer is different in each state. Some common features are reference checks, background checks, and online training. The online application and training is not always compatible with screen reader systems, like JAWS, and luckily my husband and I decided to do it together. Each state has local office staff who are usually eager to help in any way they can. I imagine they would assist with filling out applications and training.

The program is run through the Cooperative Extension system of land-grant universities and they are aware and working on accessibility issues when I inquired.

Accommodations Needed

Other accommodations, are as individualized as each person’s visual abilities and the projects in which they are involved. I am currently co-project leader for electronics and help with basic instruction for the younger members. It helps to review the project book and have all supplies ready and where I can find them prior to meetings. Sighted help assists in having the members fill in books which are required if they want to submit projects for the county or state fair. My other tasks are scheduling and organizing (requiring emails and phone calls), various clerical tasks and acting as interpreter when my husband uses terminology beyond the kid’s abilities!

In the beginning I was a little apprehensive about becoming a leader who is blind and how the kids would respond to me. This is something I struggle with when engaging in any new activity and meeting groups of people. My comfort zone is one-on-one interactions and environments I can control. I shouldn’t have worried. The kids were so focused on the projects and learning, they sometimes forget that I can’t see and ask me to look at something.

Becoming a Role Model

Now that my self-confidence is improving, when time permits, I may expand to project leader of a health project where my strongest knowledge base could be put to good use. My goal is to become a role model of what someone can accomplish with their abilities and perseverance.

Consider Your Options for Volunteering

4-H is one of many opportunities that abound for volunteering. Everyone should determine their interests, abilities and time availability and then consider all the options for volunteering. When you become a volunteer, you may find you receive as many benefits from the experience as those you serve!