Volunteers help

first_imgBy Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaAs state agencies struggle to operate under budget cuts andhiring freezes, volunteers can make a big difference in keepingtheir programs effective. At the University of Georgia, MasterGardeners do just that.”We’ve always relied heavily on our Master Gardener volunteers,”said Mel Garber, associate dean for Extension at the UGA Collegeof Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”Master Gardeners play critical roles in delivering consumerhorticulture information to people across the state,” Garbersaid. “As a state agency, we’re able to make state dollars gofarther by maximizing the use of our volunteer work force.”Marco Fonseca, the Georgia Master Gardener coordinator, said morethan 2,200 people worked for UGA last year for 141,911 hours andnever drew paychecks.Cost of trainingTo become a Master Gardener in Georgia, you have to apply to theprogram, be accepted and complete a three-month training programand a 50-hour volunteering requirement.The classroom and hands-on training costs around $120 (about $6each for 20 twice-a-week sessions) and includes a 600-page MasterGardener manual. The instructors are county agents, UGA Extensionspecialists, Master Gardeners and green industry professionals.Master Gardener volunteers must work at least 50 hours within oneyear of their training. They work with their county Extensionoffice, where the program is administered. The county agentdecides how the Master Gardeners donate their hours.”Many of our Master Gardeners stand in for our county agents whenthe public calls a county office,” said Krissy Slagle, a GeorgiaMaster Gardener program assistant. “It’s important that theyanswer a consumer’s question and answer it correctly. And thetraining program prepares them to do so.”Big in the cityHelping county agents answer phone calls and e-mails isespecially helpful in metro areas, Slagle said.”In Atlanta, some county agents get 150 to 170 horticulture callsper day,” she said. “The heaviest need we’ve had for MasterGardeners is in the northern part of the state, where thepopulation is heavier and agents receive more calls than they canhandle alone. We’re very interested in having the program grow inthe southern part of the state, though.”Master Gardeners work outside of county Extension offices, too.”In Fulton County, the Master Gardeners put in a Gold Medal plantgarden in Centennial Olympic Park,” Slagle said. “Several MasterGardener groups put in ‘Plant-a-Row for the Hungry’ gardens,where the vegetables are donated to the needy. And MasterGardeners are working with Habitat for Humanity, installingplants and teaching the new homeowners how to care for theplants.”In schools, tooFonseca said another new part of the program is the TeacherMaster Gardener Program. Offered in the summer, this condensedprogram trains teachers to develop lesson plans centered aroundhorticulture.”The teachers then go back and coordinate the installation ofschool gardens that are used as teaching tools,” Fonseca said.”We’ve had 150 teachers participate so far.”Surprisingly, you don’t have to have a green thumb to be a MasterGardener in Georgia. You just have to have a giving heart.”Most people assume the Master Gardener program centers aroundgardening,” Slagle said. “Volunteering is the real meat of theprogram. And most of the volunteering centers around gardening.”Yesterday, todayThe program was developed by Extension Service faculty atWashington State University in the early 1970s. Since then it hasspread throughout the United States and Canada.Many county agents are accepting applications now for MasterGardener trainings to begin in January 2005. Contact your countyextension office for details.If you can’t take part in the program, you can still buy theMaster Gardener Handbook. Mail your order to: Georgia MasterGardener Program, 1109 Experiment Street, Cowart Building,Griffin, GA 30223. Include a check for $60, payable to “UGA CES.”(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of GeorgiaCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)last_img

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