Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // Commentary // 2LET6

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Frustrated Volunteer


The Fall 1990 issue of the Journal contained a special section on volunteerism. I've tried to volunteer to help my state's Extension Service. As my technical background is in postharvest handling of fruits and vegetables, I first offered my services to the program staff involved in a produce marketing program. My offer was initially met with enthusiasm, but eight months and several unanswered letters later, I learned that my services wouldn't be needed.

Undaunted, I volunteered to help Extension prepare for a statewide inservice on internationalizing Extension programs. Since I hold a master's in international agricultural development and my doctorate focused on program development and evaluation, again my offer was met with enthusiasm. While awaiting some concrete indication of how I could help (and writing letters and making phone calls that went unanswered), I was setting up a consulting firm that deals with Extension worldwide. I'm now working across the U.S. and abroad and being paid well to perform tasks I've repeatedly volunteered to Extension. Almost four months passed before I was allowed to begin working with a county agent on the evaluation plan for the inservice, by then only a week away.

My personal saga of frustration and failure to be taken seriously as a volunteer may or may not have relevance for Extension as a whole. I'd ask these questions: Can Extension afford to ignore those interested in volunteering during these resource-constrained times? Does having expertise work against being considered an appropriate Extension volunteer? Is there really a place for volunteers in most Extension programs or is working with volunteers simply too much trouble?

After a year and a half of trying to volunteer to work with Extension, much of my own enthusiasm has passed. How many other potential volunteers may already have given up?

Lisa Kitinoja
Extension Systems International
Columbus, Ohio