Volunteers make huge impact on 4-H’ers



You don’t have to try too hard to find a Jackson County 4-H volunteer when you visit the fairgrounds each July.

The program has about 180 adults throughout the year helping out with clubs, activities, council meetings and more.

Each of those people also lends a helping hand during the busiest two weeks of the year.

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"Every one of those volunteers has at least something to do with volunteering at the Jackson County Fair," said Heather VonDielingen, 4-H youth development educator for Jackson County.

"Whether it’s helping get projects ready for the fair, whether out here working in the building and taking a shift, running the livestock shows or anything else, there’s an all-hands-on-deck experience during fair week with our volunteers," she said.

This year, the organization is celebrating four volunteers who have spent 20 years or more volunteering with the local 4-H.

Terry Melloncamp has been recognized for 25 years of service, while Julie Peters, Anna Pollert and Kim Underwood have each served 20 years.

VonDielingen said she is thankful for volunteers who have committed their time because of the sacrifices they make to help youth.

"I think it’s wonderful because people are really busy, and the fact that you have individuals who give their time for 20, 25 years or more than that is incredible," she said. "I think it speaks a lot for the integrity of the program and the community’s support for a truly great organization. We couldn’t have our 4-H program if it wasn’t for our volunteers and those long-term volunteers, whether they’re club leaders, livestock superintendents or something else. We really couldn’t do it without them."

There are more than 30 clubs and many specialty clubs, including outdoors or topic- and animal-focused groups.

"We have something to meet the needs of any youth’s needs here in Jackson County, and if we don’t yet, then we are open to those conversations if we can find a volunteer to lead that kind of experience. We’ll do our best to recruit them," she said.

Peters, 44, of Vallonia is the leader of Dudleytown Redbirds 4-H Club, which is the club she was a 10-year member of when she participated in the program. The club has 41 girls.

"I went from a member straight to being a leader," she said.

She said she enjoys seeing the girls grow into their own individuals throughout their time in the club.

"It has been rewarding to see kids who started out little, then mature and come out of their shell and then develop into a young, professional person," she said.

Peters said seeing the effort they put in and then having success makes her job as a leader very rewarding.

The group does fun activities and community service projects like angel tree shopping at Christmas for the Sertoma Club of Jackson County.

"Every 4-H’er goes to Walmart and buys a gift," she said.

Melloncamp, 49, has been the swine superintendent for 26 years. That means he has made sure the department is ready for the fair, helps entries with paperwork and acts as a resource for any 4-H’er who is participating in swine.

"I try to help kids and let them know how to properly take care of their livestock so they’re good stewards of the pork industry," he said. "All 4-H kids come out to be great leaders, good citizens and stewards of the land and become leaders in our community."

Melloncamp also serves on the 4-H council and livestock committee in addition to serving at the state fair.

His favorite part of his service is seeing the kids succeed when they place in a show.

"The greatest thing is to see the smile on a kid’s face once they’ve won because they’ve accomplished what they set out to do and worked for it," he said. "Granted, there is only one winner, but the others also smile because they know all the effort they’ve put in and that it’s worth it."

Underwood, 61, of Vallonia has led the Jackson County Horse and Pony 4-H Club and is on the council. The club has 25 members.

"I started when my kids started, and they were both 10-year members," she said.

Underwood said the program shows them how to be dedicated and responsible and teaches them leadership, procedures and critical thinking. She said it’s exciting to see her club members follow through with projects and become successful.

"I love helping the kids, watching them grow and seeing their enthusiasm," he said. "Hopefully, they will learn and want to be a leader, too, one day."

Pollert, 51, was a 10-year member and started the Vallonia Friends 4-H Club with Ruth Hackman when her children began junior 4-H.

She said the group has health and safety presentations, recreation, demonstrations and more during their meetings. Those times help groom important skills for youth, she said.

"The kids learn responsibility and public speaking," Pollert said. "Our kids also learn parliamentary procedure, so they know how to properly run a meeting, which is huge."

In fact, Pollert said one of her most proud moments was when a motion failed during a meeting. She said that showed the group really thought about the motion.

"They obviously know what they’re voting on and paying attention," she said.

Seeing her former club members develop into leaders and succeed is the most rewarding part of being a volunteer. Some of her former members have gone on to start careers in agriculture, law enforcement, health care and more.

"It’s great to see them become leaders," she said.

VonDielingen said it’s good to have people like Melloncamp, Peters, Pollert and Underwood help provide children with a caring adult who strives to help them succeed and develop.

She said the biggest impact is when you see children who are in third or fourth grade educating the public about animals and agriculture at the fair. VonDielingen said that’s because they have learned from committed volunteers and some who have been with the organization for the long term.

"It’s our volunteers who have instilled the content knowledge in our youth and have given them opportunities for public speaking and presentation skills," she said. "It depends on the volunteer’s capacity. We want to transform lives and livelihoods through research-based education."

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