The UC Master Gardener Program is well known for its volunteers' prolific extension of home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management to California residents. At times behind the scenes and at other times front and center, UC Master Gardener Program Coordinators and lead volunteers work diligently to ensure that volunteer cohorts have the skills and resources they need to succeed.
Last month UC Master Gardener statewide staff, program coordinators, and volunteer leaders gathered for their annual coordinator meeting. This year the annual coordinator meeting included two packed days full of training, sharing, and enrichment centered on volunteer engagement.
Volunteer engagement is an approach to volunteer leadership that attempts to support volunteers throughout the volunteer lifecycle – from identification and selection through orientation and training to program recognition and evaluation. Presenters delivered informative presentations focusing on generation-informed approaches to volunteer engagement, best practices in adult and land-based learning, program evaluation, communication with government officials, and new resources.
Following a few sample icebreakers, coordinators received updates on the state of volunteer engagement within UC ANR from Gemma Miner, the UC 4-H Youth Development Program's Volunteer Engagement Coordinator. Building on this presentation, UC Master Gardener Program Volunteer Engagement Coordinator, Marisa Coyne, offered a presentation on applying a generational lens to the work of recruiting and retaining volunteers. Coordinators brainstormed generated ideas related to improving the generational diversity of UC Master Gardener volunteers and remarked that although each generation (traditionalist, baby boomer, generation X, and millennial) was shaped by different trends and events, many of their needs are similar.
A quick lunch was followed by a visit to the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, a beloved community garden located in Sacramento County. The Horticulture Center hosts community events and workshops, including an annual Harvest Day in August attended by thousands in the region annually. At the garden, Lauren Snowden, Statewide Training Coordinator, demonstrated hands-on, multi-sensory, participant-focused facilitation methods, while teaching about bulbs for fall planting. UC Master Gardener Volunteer, Lori Thorson, gave her account of the impact of the program on her life.
The group re-convened bright and early the next day for a presentation by UC Davis Student Farm Associate Director, Carol Hillhouse. Drawing on her 30-year career in outdoor experiential learning with UC, Hillhouse outlined eight best practices for adult and land-based learning. “Adults come to education experiences with prior knowledge and with expectations,” said Hillhouse. “Successful volunteer engagement includes the acknowledgement and application of prior knowledge and an ability to meet adult learning goals.”
Next, Melissa Womack, Statewide Marketing and Communications Coordinator and Tamekia Wilkins, Statewide Evaluation Coordinator, led the group through an activity designed to help folks share program evaluation data using storytelling and data. As daily communication moves increasingly online, networks like Twitter and Facebook create opportunities for sharing impact with community members and community leaders.
Before lunch, Coordinators were treated to a special presentation from Anne Megaro, UC ANR Government and Community Relations Director, who provided advice for effective communication with government officials and community leaders. Megaro noted that, in the local context, it is important to “know your champions,” meaning the individuals (volunteers included!), entities, and families that are committed to and recognize the worth of projects and offerings.
Finally, a five person panel of program coordinators presented on the topic of partnerships for program effectiveness, sharing ideas for possible collaborations with juvenile rehabilitation programs, visually impaired communities, school districts, sustainability-focused non-profit organizations, and other UC ANR statewide programs.
Just as UC Master Gardener Volunteers seek continuing education to ensure that their horticulture information and extension skills are sharp, program coordinators engage annually in professional development around volunteer management, program administration, and evaluation. Research on core competencies of Master Gardener Coordinators in North Carolina indicates that a variety of proficiencies are needed to successfully lead a Master Gardener Program. Annual coordinator meetings are a regular opportunity to build and share knowledge.
A list of coordinators can be found the UC Master Gardener Program website
. Note: Some counties do not have UCCE staff coordinators. In these cases, UCCE Advisors or County Directors are listed as the lead contact per UC ANR policy.
Thank you to all who attended and presented at this year's coordinator meeting!