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Homemaker volunteers develop leadership skills

By Keryn Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Strong leadership in rural communities often is hard to find. But one Stone County woman stepped up to the challenge and now serves as president of the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers Inc.

Jean Colwart coordinates the efforts of the MHV board and encourages leadership skill development among club members. Her goal as president is to involve all homemakers in the walking program she developed to go along with the current MHV wellness theme.

"We encourage homemakers to gradually start a walking program to improve their health," Colwart said. "Our mission is to strengthen families through education and community involvement. If we can do something to help, we do it."

Colwart said the Mississippi State University Extension Service provided the leadership training she needed to head MHV. Local Extension agents provide training and the latest information on a variety of topics to homemaker club leaders, who then pass on that knowledge to their communities.

"The homemaker clubs volunteer with numerous projects in their communities and statewide, also," said Reba Bland, Extension leadership development area agent in Marshall County. "The volunteers devote many hours to making items for local nursing homes and the children's hospital in Jackson."

At nursing homes, volunteers make and donate clothing protectors and blankets, and provide manicures and bingo parties for residents. Patients at the children's hospital receive therapy dolls that help them understand what is happening to their bodies, cancer caps, slippers, diaper covers and tote bags to keep up with their toys, crayons, books and other items.

"The volunteers also make tote bags to give children living at Palmer Home for Children in Columbus and the Ronald McDonald House," Bland said. "They give food, clothing and toys to children living at domestic violence shelters. If there's any need, these ladies try to provide for it."

Homemaker volunteers recently took on a project that involved sending books, tapes and playing cards to military troops stationed in Iraq. Volunteers also frequently lead literacy and health-related educational projects in their communities.

"The homemaker volunteers also serve as great lobbyists for the Extension Service. A group of volunteers recently took refreshments to legislators at the Capitol. To show their appreciation of the Extension Service, they attended the Appropriations Committee meeting where Dr. Joe McGilberry presented Extension budget requests," Bland said.

The Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers started in 1902 as tomato clubs, groups of homemakers who taught 4-H'ers and other people how to can tomatoes. The group has grown over the years and now boasts a membership of more than 3,000 statewide. Now, clubs that meet at night and on Saturdays are being formed in an effort to attract more young homemakers and working mothers.

Bland said MHV is the least expensive -- with annual dues of just $5 -- and most rewarding club offered to women in Mississippi. For more information or to join an MHV club, contact the local county Extension office.

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Released: May 12, 2005
Contact: Reba Bland, (662) 252-3541

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