One thousand volunteers.
It’s a milestone for the Illinois 4-H program which has seen its share of big moments as a life-changing organization.
One thousand people have received training and are now certified Illinois 4-H Shooting Sports volunteers. Just eight years ago, the program didn’t even exist.
In 2009, Illinois 4-H sent five staff members to the National 4-H Shooting Sports training program. It was the realization of a 20-year dream by people who were convinced that shooting sports was another avenue to positively inspire youth who might not be reached through other 4-H avenues.
“Shooting is simply the subject matter that we use to do what 4-H does so well, prepare and empower young people with the skills they need to be successful in life,” said Dan Dawson, University of Illinois Extension state shooting sports educator.
There are now 19 nationally trained volunteers in Illinois who are responsible for conducting all of the state 4-H volunteer trainings in each of the disciplines. They are Andy Davis, Steve Dolniak, Paul Burton, and Don Wulf in rifle; Pete Fandel, Doc Rokosch, and Mike York in archery; Tim Todd, Brad Ozee, Wayne Knight, and Tom Bates in shotgun; Kurt Willoughby, Mike Moody, John Labusier, and Rick Winninger in pistol; and Curt Sinclair, Brad Arndt, Mike Quill, and Shawn Pickett in hunting and outdoor skills, in addition to Dawson who trains each county coordinator and also teaches the general sessions.
Twice a year, every year since 2009, the nationally certified instructors coach batch after batch of new volunteers who are passionate about shooting sports and even more passionate about kids, Dawson said.
On May 7, U of I Extension certified its 1,000th 4-H shooting sports volunteer instructor in the weekend training at 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello.
“I’ve never met a more dedicated group of 4-H volunteers,” Dawson said. Volunteers go through rigorous background and reference checks in addition to their 3-day required training. A large part of their training is an introduction to the fundamental philosophy of 4-H youth development. Most of those attending the May training indicated they had no previous 4-H experience.
“After the training, our 4-H volunteers understand their role in mentoring youth to become self-directed, confident members of their community,” Dawson said. “Yes, they’ll also teach the fundamentals of safe shooting, but their bigger role will be helping youth feel welcomed, empowered, and successful; generous in spirit and thoughtful of their fellow club members and communities they live.”
Currently 2,600 youth participate in 4-H shooting sports in Illinois each year. That number has remained consistent for the past five years. “As 4-H members age out of the program, new youth are finding the excitement of shooting sports,” Dawson said. Illinois offers project work in archery, shotgun, rifle, pistol, and hunting and wildlife. Archery is the most popular, partly because youth as young as 8 may participate.
Ron Camper attended his second training in May. Certified first in archery, he returned this year to be able to assist in the rifle project. “I was thrilled that the kids were so eager to learn and advance in archery last year,” Camper said, “and I know we’ll see the same thing in rifle.”
For Jonathon Manuel of Piatt County, serving as a volunteer allows him time to do things with his twins. “I want to see 4-H keep growing,” Manuel said.
Understanding the role 4-H can play in shaping tomorrow’s leaders, Greg Brugler of Winnebago said, “I want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
Elizabeth Stauffer, a 6-year 4-H alumna of Ogle County 4-H, said she wanted to give back to the program she learned from. “I want kids to have fun while learning,” Stauffer said.
The kinship the group feels grows throughout the weekend.
“The reason I am beginning the journey as a 4-H shooting instructor is simple; I want to be a part of a life of some youth who believed they couldn’t do it,” said Michael Jensen of Montgomery County. “Through this training and a heart to serve, this well happen.”
PHOTO: Illinois 4-H Shooting Sports: With this class of 65 volunteers, Illinois 4-H surpassed its 1,000th volunteer for the Illinois 4-H Shooting Sports club program since its beginning in 2009. More than 2,600 youth participate in the shooting sports program annually through 4-H. These volunteers were certified in weekend training ending May 7 at 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello. Photo by John LaBusier.