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57,000 Hours

Childs attended 34 of the Southern Region Leader Forums. She’s pictured at a forum at Rock Eagle 4-H Center in 1976. Photo contributed

4-H Volunteer Yvonne Childs Recognized with Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award

It was 1952 when Yvonne Hiers’ family moved from Decatur County, Georgia, to Quincy, Florida. At the time, she was in high school and was a devoted Senior 4-H’er who was putting all of her effort into becoming a Master 4-H’er with her 4-H Dress Revue project.

There was just one problem: Florida 4-H didn’t recognize Dress Revue as a project. That was before they met Yvonne. She and her agent pushed to have the project added to the already existing Clothing project, and it was added in summer 1952.

By 1953, she had created the 4-H Dress Revue project in Florida, become the first Florida 4-H’er to master in that project – she won the state competition – and started teaching Junior 4-H’ers in her new county how to sew at formal, weekly meetings.

Her eight years as a 4-H member marked the beginning of a 69-year career of helping to make 4-H’ers – and 4-H – the best that they could possibly be. 

“She just bleeds green,” said University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Grady County Coordinator Deron Rehberg, who grew up in Georgia 4-H showing hogs alongside Yvonne Hiers Childs’ children and has worked with the veteran Georgia 4-H volunteer for 29 years. “She has a passion for 4-H. She just loves it.”

Yvonne ChildsGrady County 4-H agent Lisa Starling (left to right), Georgia 4-H Foundation Executive Director Mary Ann Parsons, Georgia 4-H Leader Arch Smith and Georgia 4-H Specialist for Volunteer Development Keri Hobbs recognized volunteer Yvonne Childs (center) at State 4-H Council this summer. Photo by Blane Marable

This year the National 4-H Council honored Childs with the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award, a National 4-H Salute to Excellence Award. It is the most prestigious award given each year to longtime 4-H volunteers.

“Georgia 4-H volunteers are the unsung heroes of our program,” said Arch Smith, state leader for Georgia 4-H. “We appreciate the commitment and dedication of people like Yvonne Childs, who give unselfishly of their time and resources to help keep Georgia 4-H as one of the best 4-H programs in America. Yvonne is most deserving of this national recognition.”

Throughout her years of service, Childs has volunteered more than 57,000 hours with Georgia 4-H, serving as chaperone throughout decades of summer camps and masterfully coaching thousands of 4-H’ers on their District Project Achievement (DPA) presentations.

“She has been the rock that Grady County 4-H is built upon,” Rehberg said. “Her steady presence as a 4-H volunteer has given 4-H’ers a personal connection to our program.”

If she had been a paid program assistant, Childs would have been entitled to close to $700,000 in salary for her work, but the three generations of Grady County students with whom she has worked think that number undervalues the impact that “Nonnie,” as they call her, has had on their lives.

“It was this unequivocal commitment to helping kids do their best that made the impact,” said Denise Everson, former Grady County 4-H’er and 4-H agent, and current Family and Consumer Sciences program development coordinator for UGA Extension. “It was the one-on-one attention that made the impact, and she didn’t just do it for me … Working with her was an invitation into her family that you didn’t deserve and you didn’t ask for. She just gave it.”

Everson remembers Childs listening to her as she gave her DPA presentation over and over again during the spring of her junior and senior years of high school.

Like she’s done for countless other Grady County 4-H’ers, she invited Everson to her home for “DPA boot camp,” where 4-H’ers worked on their portfolios and presentations until they were perfect.

“She can get them to do things for her that they won’t do for anyone else,” Rehberg said.

Over the years, Childs has also worked outside of Grady County to increase the impact of Georgia 4-H. As a veteran volunteer, she helped start the first 4-H Volunteer Leader Association in the state. Several other states adopted the model that she helped to develop. Childs also helped support 4-H programs outside the U.S., hosting leaders and 4-H’ers from Asia and Latin America and making lifelong connections along the way.

“I know of no one else who has a softer spot in their heart for kids, all kinds of kids – her own kids, other people’s kids, regular kids, square kids, responsive kids and ungrateful kids,” said Harold Darden, 4-H associate state leader emeritus who, in a 2015 nomination letter, called Childs “that whirlwind of energy from Grady County.”

“She is determination with her fingers crossed, patience with a twinkle in her eye and zeal that observes no curfew,” he wrote.

As for Childs, she describes her time with Georgia 4-H as her career and her passion.

“It’s not what I’ve done for 4-H; it’s what 4-H has done for me and my family,” she said. “My children made so many friends in 4-H. They still have friends, even at their ages from 58 to 47, that they are still in contact with. They’re lifelong friends.”

Building connections between children and helping children achieve their potential has been a motivator for Childs, who is now in her 80s, yet shows no signs of slowing down. “4-H builds the leaders of tomorrow,” she said. “I believe that. I’ve believed it all my life and that’s why I’m so wrapped up in Georgia 4-H.”

Childs traveled to the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the first week of October to accept her award during the 4-H Heritage Luncheon.