This year, adults across Colorado gave $25 million in volunteer hours to youngsters enrolled in 4-H, ultimately preparing them for the Super Bowl of fairs – the Colorado State Fair, which begins in Pueblo this week. The 165,000 Colorado children and teenagers who participated in 4-H this year were able to do so because of volunteers from every county in the state who contributed time to support the program.
Each of the nearly 11,500 4-H volunteers in Colorado donates an average of about 128 hours a year to 4-H, or about 10 hours per month. The U.S. Department of Labor places a value on volunteer time at $17.55 per hour.
Most 4-H volunteers teach or advise 4-H members about topics of interest within community-based groups. Adult volunteers share their hobbies and professional skills with 4-H’ers by leading them through projects that help youth learn about and experiment with their own skills related to topics as diverse as veterinary medicine, gardening, model rocketry and photography. In addition to learning skills for life through 4-H projects, young people learn life skills such as leadership, record keeping and decision making through their involvement in the program.
"We rely on a strong volunteer pool to deliver opportunities to 4-H members in hundreds of communities across the state," said Dale Leidheiser, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension specialist who coordinates 4-H volunteers in Colorado. "The majority of 4-H volunteers are recruited by existing volunteers – friends, neighbors, acquaintances, parents of children who ask other parents – who have enjoyed their involvement with 4-H youth."
The typical 4-H volunteer lives in an urban environment: In contrast to the stereotype of 4-H being a program for a rural audience, only 9 percent of volunteers live on a farm. In addition, Colorado 4-H volunteers are educated, with more than 60 percent of them holding a post-high school degree. Nearly 70 percent are female.
Collectively, the volunteers believe that being skilled in communication, organization, interpersonal skills and leadership are important traits to demonstrate to 4-H’ers – and are important to their own personal success as volunteers as well.
Volunteers are critical to the success of the 4-H program within Colorado, said Leidheiser. "We’ve cultivated an ethic of volunteerism that is important to the delivery of our programs. If we didn’t have volunteers, our 60 employees across the state would not be able to offer 4-H programs in their community the way they are offered today."
4-H got its informal start at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, 4-H programs and programs related to 4-H help youth in more than 80 countries around the world. The curriculum for each project gives members an opportunity to learn new trades and hobbies, and also is designed to develop children and teen’s character and decision-making skills while encouraging community service. All curriculum and projects are based on childhood development research and are developed by land-grant colleges such as Colorado State University in all 50 states of the union.
The four H’s stand for head, heart, hands and health, and members pledge to serve their community using all four of these personal assets while developing their mental, character and community service skills.
To volunteer for a 4-H club or to find out more about 4-H in Colorado, contact the state office at Colorado State University at (970) 491-1152.