Wendy Marcks is an extension educator for the UMass Extension 4-H Youth Development Program for the northeast region of Massachusetts. She loves her job and has been perfecting it for 19 years. Based in Waltham, she has a wide range of responsibilities for volunteer management, club recruitment, educational programming, project competition management, and staff supervision.
Pride with Visual Presentation Program
If you ask her what drives her passion about 4-H she will readily tell you it is the success of the 4-H Visual Presentation (VP) Program in her region and across the state. Recognizing that public speaking is a skill that is critical to youth and adults alike, she focuses on training adult volunteers who work with 4-H youth members to judge youth in a positive way, focusing on what the child has done well, and giving specific feedback in areas that need improvement.
Opportunities are provided for young people to practice their skills before a competition in a supportive group setting. Students learn to organize their thoughts, research their topic, and outline their presentations in a logical sequence.
This program is known in the state’s educational community for producing capable, competent, and confident public speakers, willing to teach others. An amazing result is that 150-200 youth willingly spend an entire Saturday competing in public speaking each year.
Special recognition for work with animals
Over time, Marcks has observed that young people who have companion animals gain a variety of psychosocial benefits. She has explored this premise during her time in Extension by returning to graduate school at night and on weekends to earn her master’s degree and then completed her thesis in the topic of animal-assisted activities. Related travels took her to the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society Conference at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine. She then went on to Virginia to participate in a national 4-H “train the trainer” conference of the Ohio Extension 4-H “PetPALS” Curriculum. She then enrolled in a professional development course through the online non-profit “People, Animal, Nature, Inc.,” which promotes a multidisciplinary approach to the “Human Animal Studies” body of knowledge through research and education. The culmination of her studies resulted in receiving a grant to create the Mass. 4-H COMPACT Project (Companion Animal Activities) in which she trained 4-H adult volunteers to teach children with companion animals how to take them into local assisted-living facilities. This activity remains popular in several 4-H clubs in her region. As a result of her research, she was nominated by her peers and awarded an Achievement in Service Award at the 2004 Oklahoma convention of the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. Most recently, she graduated with distinction from a Professional Dog Trainers program and is an evaluator and instructor.
Changes in 4-H over 19 years
For Wendy, and others, work in 4-H has changed drastically from her earlier years in the program. She reports that she does not have as many opportunities to work directly with youth. There has been a rise in paperwork and in areas of regulatory responsibility, crisis management and liability. Funding levels and sources have changed and her responsibilities have greatly expanded from a single county to a region.
Her region (Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties), averages 650 youth members each year. Another 100-150 youth are reached through short-term 4-H “IMPACT” programs. There are 325 fully-screened adult 4-H volunteers within her region. Marcks manages all 4-H competitions in the region.
Marcks said, “I have found this job fulfills my desire to do meaningful work that makes an observable and measurable difference in the lives of youth and volunteers. Every day is a new challenge, but job satisfaction is top rate.”