Volunteer Power

Forest stewards (photo courtesy of Jim Finley)With 277 paid educators on staff and an enormous outreach mission to serve a diverse statewide population of 12.5 million, volunteers are essential to success. For Penn State Cooperative Extension, they make possible the delivery of valuable programs.

By carefully managing an army of volunteers, organizations are able to carry out a variety of programs on a much larger scale. For extension, this has translated into significant numbers of people being trained and reached.

Master Gardeners: Volunteers are trained to provide science-based information on horticulture and environmentally sound gardening practices to homeowners and gardeners in 62 counties. Last year, 2,781 Master Gardeners contributed 126,184 hours of volunteer service, providing education for 249,448 participants. With the estimated value of a volunteer hour in Pennsylvania at $19.61, Master Gardener volunteer hours in the past year equaled nearly $2.5 million in salary savings.

Youth Development: Extension has developed a large volunteer base of 9,200 older youth and adults who lend their time, talents, and support to help youth become contributing members of society. Many serve as 4-H club organizational leaders, project and activity leaders, chaperones, and camp counselors. 4-H leaders attend training and become key leaders in mentoring and training new volunteers.

Family and Consumer Sciences: More than 400 volunteer leaders in the StrongWomen nutrition and physical activity program have helped more than 5,000 participants combat osteoporosis and other chronic diseases. Extension also partners with the IRS to train and supervise community volunteers. Penn State students in The Dickinson School of Law gain real-life experience helping low-income residents understand tax laws.

Master Well Owner Network: Extension uses volunteers to educate homeowners about water supplies, including construction, location, testing, maintenance, and treatment. Since its inception in 2004, the Master Well Owner Network has generated more than $600,000 in external grant support. Volunteers in 63 counties logged more than 300 hours personally educating 7,185 private-water-system owners and reached another 9,000 homeowners through newsletters, articles, and television.

Forest Stewards: Forest stewards train private landowners to become advocates for good forestry management and wildlife habitats. They help start landowner and woodland owners’ associations, organize tours and school visits, work with youth, and produce television programs on forest sustainability.

Extension Advisory Boards: Each county has an Extension Advisory Board. These boards provide a link between extension and communities and work with extension educators to provide resources for delivering county programs, and they advocate for extension, research, and the College of Agricultural Sciences. Through strong leadership and support of county extension boards, extension can meet the needs of the people.