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Extension > Source - Fall/Winter 2009 > 4-H volunteers provide lifelong return on investment

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4-H volunteers provide lifelong return on investment

Aiming high: 4-H volunteers provide lifelong return on investment

When Judy Plank and her family moved from the city to the country in Olmsted County more than 25 years ago, she began looking for ways to get involved with her new neighbors and share her passion for the outdoors with young people. Plank signed up her daughters for 4-H and discovered the Shooting Sports & Wildlife program. Since then, volunteering with 4-H has become her family's way to give back to their community.

Group of Volunteers

As a 4-H volunteer for more than 25 years, Judy Plank has shared her passion for the outdoors with young people. Volunteers are critical to the success of Minnesota 4-H.

When Plank signed up her daughters for 4-H, she knew she needed to get involved, too. "We had just bought 40 acres of land for wildlife habitat, so the Shooting Sports & Wildlife Program was perfectly aligned with our family's passions," Plank says. "I became an instructor in air rifle and my husband became a shotgun instructor."

Plank completed local and national training to become a Minnesota 4-H instructor. To become a Shooting Sports & Wildlife instructor, 4-H volunteers are required to complete 23 hours of training; most take many more.

Volunteers are critical to 4-H's success in providing high-quality, informal learning experiences for youth in Minnesota.

"Minnesota 4-H Youth Development has a strong ethic of volunteerism, and we rely on volunteers to provide programming to youth," says Minnesota 4-H State Program Leader Dorothy McCargo Freeman. "Our trained, professional staff works directly with volunteers, helping us reach many more youth, while also ensuring a quality experience."

Plank, who has a B.S. degree in elementary education, values the research and curriculum base of 4-H, as well as the hands-on, practical training.

"The volunteers couldn't do this without the 4-H educators and program coordinators," Plank says. "Their management and support make 4-H the quality program that it is. I was interested in also volunteering in the sewing project, but had no background in it. The curriculum and training provided by the 4-H staff made it easy for me to learn about sewing, and gave me the framework and tools to successfully guide youth in the project."

The 4-H Shooting Sports & Wildlife Program, which builds skills in the safe use of firearms and archery and teaches youth about game and non-game wildlife, has grown 39 percent in the last four years. More than 800 youth have participated this year. Many people are surprised to learn about the wildlife education component of the program, which teaches youth to value, protect and improve Minnesota's natural resources.

"Most people associate the program with the 4-H State Shoot event each fall," says Plank. "But the program is not about competition; it's about enjoying the outdoors and self-improvement. We guide youth in hands-on learning about their environment. Many of them go on to careers in wildlife and natural resource sciences."

Kids are required to complete at least eight hours of wildlife training to participate. The training may include attending a talk about environmental awareness, going on trips to forest resource centers, participating in cleanup after floods and other natural disasters, or taking part in canoe trips to explore topography changes.

Plank, whose daughters grew up in 4-H, continues to volunteer with her husband.

"We have a responsibility to be involved with the kids in our communities. 4-H teaches youth that volunteering is an important, lifelong skill," says Plank. "They benefit from their relationships with adult volunteers and then want to give back themselves."

To learn more about Minnesota 4-H, visit


Did you know?

4-H youth are 25 percent more civically active and make more community contributions and are 47 percent less likely to have risky/problem behavior than youth who participated in other out-of-school programs.

To read more from "Waves of the Future: The first five years of the 4-H study of positive youth development" (Tufts University, May 2009), visit

4-H member gives back to 4-H

College student and 4-H alumna Anne Koepp develops lifelong leadership skills while giving back to 4-H.

Youth volunteer enjoys giving back

4-H youth volunteer Anne Koepp joined 4-H as a Cloverbud when she was just 5 years old. Over the years, Koepp has participated in a range of projects, from nutrition to arts and biology. But horses became her true calling.

Koepp started in the Dakota County Horse project at age 9. A few years later, her mother suggested they take over the roles of the youth leaders who were moving on. Koepp and her mom—a passionate volunteer and former 4-H participant—ran the horse camp for three years. "We learned the ropes together," Koepp says.

Koepp went on to serve as president of the 4-H Horse Project Committee, and youth vice chair and youth director for the Minnesota 4-H Horse Association.

"4-H made me who I am," says Koepp, now a college student studying biology and mass communications at South Dakota State University. "My mass communications major comes from all of those speeches and presentations I gave in 4-H. I have been in other youth programs, but none were as welcoming, challenging and intriguing. 4-H made me more responsible and mature. I had hundreds of kids and adults relying on me and that motivated me. 4-H made me a better person. And for what it gave to me, I have to give back."

To learn more about how to join Minnesota 4-H or become a 4-H volunteer, visit

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