National 4-H Council announced that Joe Major of Walpole has been selected as the 2017 National 4-H Salute to Excellence 4-H Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer honoree. He is the main leader of the Sunnyrock 4-H Club at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon.
Joe is a humble man who has served as a role model for thousands of children over 37 years. Of this extraordinary national award and the students he works with, Joe said, “I have been blessed to work with incredibly talented volunteers who share their skills (websites, carpentry, fundraising, mechanics, etc.). They add to the positive things that make the program what it is. All those things that need to get done that I don’t have the skill for. I just want to focus on teaching, do lesson plans and challenge young people. The kids give me more back: Good conversation and a few laughs. They rejuvenate me.”
Joe started a small 4-H rabbit club 37 years ago and it grew into one of the largest 4-H clubs in the state. Currently, the club offers 6 animal science projects to over 80 enrolled members. Joe is a true innovator and was the first volunteer in Massachusetts 4-H to set up a livestock leasing program in a very suburban area which then served as a model for the state. Growing up on a farm in Maine he learned to love animals and agriculture and selflessly shares his time and talents to pass this onto future generations.
Joe is well-known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude. He has made his volunteer role of Educational and Program Director of Sunnyrock 4-H his full time work. He is responsible for the health and well-being of the sheep, poultry, rabbits, goats and miniature horses as well as the educational and fundraising activities of the group. Volunteers have come and gone over the 37 years but Joe has the ability to recruit and train parents and other interested adults so there is always a great core group of volunteer 4-H leaders to guide and mentor the young people involved. He teaches the importance of teamwork, cooperation and a strong work ethic and stresses the value of every child and their own individual skills. When asked why he worked so devotedly with 4-H students, he replied, “When you get a child to laugh, it means everything. More than ever with the pressures on today’s children, as they try to survive, excel at sports and get great grades, they need a place to be themselves and to work with animals. When they come every day and work with the animals, brush and feed them, the animals do not care what clothes they wear or other pressures imposed by society. Taking care of their animals is who they are in the moment. When they smile at you, you can get a good night’s sleep.”
After more than 30 years away from being a student Joe went back to college and earned his Bachelor's degree in Psychology. He said, “It helped me to understand people, their needs and to be a better communicator.”
He is a lifelong learner and is always searching for better ways to accomplish his goals and projects. Joe's work is a constant reminder that the life-changing 4-H youth development experience would be impossible without caring adult mentors like him.
Maria Cataldo, a parent volunteer who has worked with Joe sine 1994 says, “One of Joe's best strengths is his drive to continually improve himself and the program. His willingness to listen and implement suggestions from other leaders, parents, and members have enriched the program. He is truly a team player. He has made adjustments to the program structure so that members with certain challenges can be a part of the program and have their share of success." Maria summarized the positive atmosphere at their 4-H Club, “Joe has created a unique "family" in the SunnyRock 4-H program. The participants may change over the years but the "family" remains.” A rich legacy of which anyone would be proud. Thomas Darr, a long time member of Sunnyrock 4-H and now a graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology, believes it is Joe’s mindset that makes him the right candidate for this award. Without fail, he dedicates all his time to 4-H and provides youth with educational opportunities not available elsewhere, and he has for the past 37 years. By extremely conservative estimates, that is over 2,000 youth as members. Joe treats volunteering as a 4-H leader as a full-time job. Darr said, “Joe has dedicated his whole being to 4-H. It’s not just something he does, it’s who he is. That’s why he deserves the National Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award.”
The award will be officially presented to Joe at the 4-H Heritage Luncheon this fall at the National 4-H Youth Center in Chevy Chase, MD.