Doing the "Heart" Work
Volunteer Works to Grow 4-H Family
Story by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson
When she started volunteering with Tate County 4-H almost 15 years ago, Joy Magness didn’t know much about the youth development program delivered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
She was home-schooling her two children, Samantha and Eli, and her fellow home-schooling parent and friend Adelia Gaines asked Magness if she’d like her kids to join 4-H and if she’d like to volunteer.
“I’d heard of 4-H, and when I got to the local office, it just felt like home,” Magness laughs. “Volunteering, you learn things right along with your kids, and, when you volunteer for programs they’re not even doing, it opens your eyes up and gives you experiences that you would not have had otherwise.”
Like the 4-H’ers themselves, volunteers learn about the programs they teach and the people they’re teaching, and a willingness to step outside their comfort zones can offer many benefits, Magness says.
She helps lead the Tate County Scibiotics Club, a 4-H robotics club that teaches young people about programming and robotics. Neither of her children is in the club; Samantha has aged out of 4-H, and Eli, one of two 2018 National 4-H Conference delegates, is completing his final year of eligibility. Still, Magness loves it.
“My friend, Sheila Hadley, also a 4-H volunteer, always wanted to start an after-school club, and she would say, ‘When I start it, will you help me?’” Magness recalls. “I always said yes. So when she finally started the Tate County Scibiotics Club, I started learning code and doing science with a bunch of kids that are not my own.
“And, oh my word, we’re having so much fun!”
Extension agent Tarah Ferguson appreciates Magness’ assistance and says her leadership is making a difference in many local children’s lives. She’s always willing to help, whether she drives children to competitions, visits the store to buy 4-H supplies, or just helps out around the office.
“Joy offers a lot of stability to us; she’s fun to work with; she’s a good peacemaker; and she helps us fill the gaps,” Ferguson explains. “If I have a kid who’s nervous or timid or shy, Joy is going to get them out of that.
“I put the shy kids with Joy, and they are chatterboxes by the time they leave.”
Magness’s son, Eli, says his mother’s volunteering in 4-H has made them closer.
“I think Mom learned how to love me and teach me differently because she’s been willing to work with everybody,” he explains. “When you explore the people that do things differently from you, it may make you interested in some of those things.
“Mom doesn’t just drop me off and pick me up. She’s a big part of 4-H, and we’ve been all over the state. She’s equipped me—she’s really equipping all of us—to do our own thing.”
Leadership is one of the most important, immeasurable qualities a child can learn from 4-H, Magness emphasizes. She’s proud that both her children have served on the state leadership team, and she wants other kids to learn how to be leaders, too.
“You try to let the kids do as much as they can by themselves. Sometimes, that leads to little messes, but all kids want and need attention from adults,” she says. “The young people want to learn, especially when it’s the hands-on things. They want someone to be goofy with them.
“Having these leadership experiences makes them more confident people. It brings us all together as a family.”