Extension’s Army of Volunteers Steps Up
Ever volunteer to clean up a local park? Coach kids? Raise money for the local food bank? Or, in an act of foolhardy bravado, chaperone a middle school dance?
Then you’re one of New Hampshire’s most valuable assets: volunteers. And providing one of the state’s largest and most diverse volunteer networks is the UNH Cooperative Extension, which brought together 4,100 volunteers who contributed 131,423 hours of service in 2012. Their work ranges from leading 4-H clubs to serving as outreach educators in marine science, nutrition, forestry and wildlife issues, water protection, and backyard gardening.
“There’s no way we could do everything we do without our volunteers,” says Jody Jackson, a coordinator for Extension’s Operation: Military Kids (OMK) program. “The way Extension brings all these people together, trains them, and send them out to our communities is a very efficient use of dollars.”
Charlotte Cross, an Extension professor and youth and family specialist, says Extension’s outreach to military families depends on dozens of volunteers who work with all branches of the military in every county. Throughout the year, OMK and its volunteers organize camps for children in military families, assistance to help military families stay connected during deployments, and other programs.
“We’re able to deliver an awful lot of services because of our volunteer networks and partners all over the state,” Cross says. This summer, for example, OMK is working with the New Hampshire National Guard to offer camps focused on food and fitness, environmental science, flight, and leadership skills.
OMK also helps military families grow their own gardens with donated seeds, provides backpacks filled with games and activities to children when their parents deploy, and offers babysitter training to the children’s caregivers. All of the organizational work, Cross says, depends on volunteers, including UNH students and staff, military personnel, service organizations, community members and businesses.
Paul Bonaparte-Krogh is an Extension specialist who manages its statewide volunteer programs – no small task, considering the scope of Extension’s mission. Volunteers must undergo criminal background checks, go through interviews and have written references. Extension also provides them with ongoing training and support in their work.
“Thankfully, because we’ve developed such a wide network and developed our leadership training during the years, we’re able to provide support to people all over New Hampshire,” Bonaparte-Krogh says.
Statewide, Extension’s efforts have helped put New Hampshire in the top tier of states for volunteerism. About 30 percent of all residents volunteer each year, averaging 31.6 hours and ranking the Granite State 19th in the nation in volunteerism. Combined, their services are valued at about $735 million, according to a 2011 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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