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Volunteers give to communities daily

By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Ag Communications

Mississippi Master Naturalist Alice Butler, program director Chris Boyd, Master Naturalist David Butler, and Master Naturalist Carole McRight help during a 2009 cleanup day at the Biloxi High School Nature Trail. The Master Naturalist Program is one of many volunteer programs that offers citizens training and certification in exchange for service hours returned to the community. (MSU Ag Communications/file photo) click to enlarge
Mississippi Master Naturalist Alice Butler, program director Chris Boyd, Master Naturalist David Butler, and Master Naturalist Carole McRight help during a 2009 cleanup day at the Biloxi High School Nature Trail. The Master Naturalist Program is one of many volunteer programs that offers citizens training and certification in exchange for service hours returned to the community. (MSU Ag Communications/file photo)

JACKSON -- Service is a popular way to celebrate the holidays, but volunteerism is a year-round matter for many.

Members of programs such as the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers, or MHV, and the Mississippi Master Gardeners volunteer in their communities every day.
Mississippi State University’s Extension Service facilitates both programs.

“Our homemaker volunteer groups are extremely active,” said Marilyn Bailey, Extension leadership development area agent for the Southwest and Southeast districts. “In 2011, volunteer hours statewide totaled 340,455. They give so much of themselves in support of their families, communities and the state. They are outstanding individuals, and I am privileged to work with them.”

Homemaker volunteers across the state make and donate clothing and other items to area childrens’ and women’s hospitals, sell cookbooks to benefit the fight against multiple sclerosis and a scholarship fund, and work with the Department of Human Services to raise awareness of child abuse. Groups have sent clothing to tornado victims in Yazoo City, Itawamba County and Birmingham.

Their International Clothing Project reaches beyond the borders of the United States to people living in Peru, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, Panama and Hounduras.

“About three years ago, I was approached about finding the manpower to help make 300 children’s dresses for a church’s mission trip to Nicaragua,” Bailey said. “To date our Mississippi Homemaker Volunteer clubs have provided 4,498 dresses plus 2,360 other clothing items such as pants and shirts for boys.”

Members also work in their own communities, visiting residents of nursing homes and veteran’s homes and helping disadvantaged members of the community.

“The Blueberry Tasting Tea is a fundraiser that our members do each summer for the children’s home in Hattiesburg,” said Carolyn Conger, Covington County Extension director. “Half of the money is presented to them at Thanksgiving, and the other half helps them provide Christmas gifts and extracurricular activities for the children that they may not otherwise get to do.”

Frances Speed, Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers state president and Covington County group member for 24 years, said those they serve are grateful for the help, but that is not why they serve.

“We don’t do the things we do for any kind of recognition or reward,” said Speed. “We do it because we want to help people. We get joy from it.”

Master Gardeners share the same service-oriented goals.

“Being a Master Gardener is a way for me to give back to my community through service and education,” said Ann Ingels, a member of the Metro Master Gardeners in Hinds County.

Master Gardener efforts across the state include educating the public; fundraising for local ventures; and planning, installing and maintaining various beautification projects. Statewide membership climbed to more than 1,500 individuals in 2011, and their volunteer hours were valued at more than $1 million that year.

Metro Master Gardeners’ current projects include planning and installing an 1850s-period garden for The Oaks, one of Jackson’s oldest homes. The group also won the 2012 Outstanding Service Award from the Mississippi Master Gardener Association for the work they did with three Habitat for Humanity homes in Jackson.

“We took the homeowners through the entire process to help them learn how to care for the landscape,” Ingels said. “They learned about the gardening process from start to finish, and that is one of the most important objectives we have.”

Master Gardeners teach Mississippians how to improve their quality of life.

“With our economy in a lull, gardening is a great way for people to grow their own fresh, nutritious foods at a low cost,” Ingels said. “It is really nice to have the foods you need right in the backyard. It is also a great way to teach children where food comes from.”

Mississippi has 47 MHV clubs with 1,875 members. The Master Gardener program is active in 52 counties. Other Extension-sponsored volunteer programs include 4-H Junior Master Gardeners, Master Naturalist, Master Health Education Volunteers and Master Clothing Volunteers.

For more information about how to volunteer through any of these programs, contact a local county Extension office.

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Released: November 15, 2012
Contact: Marilyn Bailey, (228) 546-1011

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