National Volunteer Week, April 15-21, is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals. With this in mind, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties would like to showcase a pair of volunteers – Bill and Alice Zabel - who are the epitome of many 4-H volunteers. First, and foremost, they care about kids. That is why they have spent 15 years, as a couple, as 4-H club leaders.
The couple has each been awarded the pearl award for 4-H leadership. This award recognizes fifteen years of service to 4-H as a volunteer leader, by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Bill and Alice live on a lively farm in Feura Bush, New York. There they tend to many varieties of chickens, as well as geese and ducks. Almost twenty years ago their young sons joined the Greene County Wyndottes 4-H Club. At that time the main project focus of this club was poultry, as it had been started by Dr. Richard Langenbach, a specialist in poultry. The 4-H club leadership changed several times in those first few years of their family participation until it was clear that, if they did not pick up the club leadership, there would no longer be a 4-H club for their children and the others who were members. Thus began their fifteen years of leadership of the Greene County Wyndottes 4-H Club.
Throughout those years the 4-H club members (all 22 of them) would meet at the Zabel’s house. The club’s main project interests grew to include poultry, rabbits, goats, beef cattle, and woodworking. The Zabel’s would help teach skills to their members but also brought in other community experts. Bill’s father, for example, was the woodworking project leader.
The 4-H members built showboxes and lamps. He believed in the 4-H motto of “learn by doing” so all the members – boys and girls alike – would do their own measuring, sawing, nailing, sanding and painting. With this, every showbox and lamp was different, exhibiting the skills and individuality of each 4-H member. Of course, some skills were difficult for some members but, with the kind but firm guidance of these caring adults, they learned to not give up. The 4-H members were given plenty of opportunity to practice skills (and learned to repair mistakes) so they all had an end product they could be proud of.
When asked of some of their most favorite memories, Bill and Alice had to mention the county fair experience. They so enjoyed seeing their 4-H members having fun showing their project animals and other exhibits at the Greene County Youth Fair and Altamont Fair. One of the tenants of 4-H membership is the opportunity to share gained knowledge with others. The county fair experience provided that venue for their 4-H members to share what they learned with others.
Sadly, Bill and Alice have had to step down from their 4-H club leadership role. Bill’s health problems have gotten in the way and they do not want to disappoint the 4-H members by canceling meetings or not being available to provide the guidance they need. This, too, truly shows the kind of commitment Bill and Alice have had to supporting the development of youth for fifteen years.
The 4-H club program strives to support the growth of the whole young person. By involvement in club business meetings, as club officers, as teen leaders and in community service, youth grow to become actively involved in their own communities.
4-H is New York’s only youth development program directly connected to the technological advances and latest research at Cornell University. 4-H participants learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through hands-on projects in three primary program areas: science and technology; healthy living; and youth community action.