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Volunteering:A labor of love
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In the 1880s, the American worker was first honored with picnics and demonstrations, creating the three-day Labor Day weekend many of us will kick off today.

Growing up, I thought it was only a school holiday. My dad worked swing shifts at Hercules, which never completely shut down.

As well, my parents were always volunteering - school, scouts, the fire department, 4-H - so it seemed that adults just filled one break from work with more work.

I hesitate to call volunteering "work." After all, it's something we enjoy so much we volunteer to do it for free and can quit at any time.

However, the U.S. Department of Labor refers to the labor force as those who have "brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy," so perhaps I should reconsider.

Without volunteers, we'd still have schools, fire departments, organizations, charities and libraries, but their programs and reach would be much narrower with only paid staff.

Not only do volunteers actually do all that work, but the spirit in which they do it of their own freewill perhaps contributes even more to those traditional American ideals.

I became tired of always having my parents as chaperones. They were at school parties, on field trips, and at every scout meeting.

What it took me a while to realize was that without my parents and others like them, there would have been no brownies at the party, we'd have earned no badges, and the only field trip would have been to the playground.

It also taught me that my community was as important, and as much my responsibility, as my own home or family.

In 4-H we pledge to serve our communities, but I had been taught that ideal as long as I could remember - not in a text book, but in practice.

Thankfully, in 4-H my parents were able to finally volunteer without being on top of me or my brother like at a scout meeting.

With 1,000 people at Rock Eagle, it's easy not to see each other. Even at judging team practices, mom could work with one part of the practice while I learned with another agent or volunteer.

The University of Georgia has extension personnel in 157 counties, but 4-H staff in each county varies from multiple full-time faculty and staff to a single person with only a part-time responsibility for 4-H.

That's why the more than 10,000 volunteers working in every Georgia county are so vital.

That's how we offer horse clubs, shooting sports teams, one-on-one portfolio and project help, exchange clubs, summer programs, garden programs, community service projects, and so much more.

Yes, we even use volunteers to teach youth to be volunteers.

If this tempts you to go out and volunteer, please be warned: I've heard volunteering is actually addictive and contagious.

My parents started out assisting with crowd control at a 4-H event or helping grill burgers. By the time I graduated, they were organizing fundraisers and driving high school 4-H'ers cross-country on exchange trips.

Long after my brother and I graduated, they were still chaperoning 4-H'ers of all ages on district, state and national trips.

Today, you can find them not only in our county but also recruiting other 4-H volunteers and raising funds for 4-H programs and scholarships across Georgia.

In fact, they found a group of others as addicted as they are to 4-H: the Georgia 4-H Volunteer Leader Association - that's right, there's an entire support group for this addiction.

Seriously, though, my parents have each been honored with Master 4-H status, the highest honor in 4-H, yet I've never heard them list "the great awards" as a reason for volunteering.

Each person has to volunteer to satisfy something within them: for me, it is a need to return something to my community for all the support it has given to me.

These aren't the only exemplary volunteers in our program: parents, teachers, county and city employees, business owners and farmers volunteer to bring 4-H programming to 1,600 youth in this community.

So as I celebrate Labor Day, I'll keep in mind not only the paid workers, but also the unpaid labor force which helps to shape the America I love.

Terri Kimble is the 4-H Program Specialist for Newton County 4-H. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or