Volunteers are the backbone of the UConn 4-H program and are who keep the program vibrant. “Volunteer helps grow true leaders” Dr. Larry Penington of the First Town Veterinary Science 4-H Club of Hartford County 4-H has volunteered 23 years of service to this program. An interview was conducted with him and below are his responses…
Emily Syme: How did you learn about this Extension volunteer program?
Dr. Larry Pennington: I have been familiar with the extension program and 4-H dating back to my youth in the early 60’s. I grew up as a 4-Her and at age 8, I even had a grand champion pig at my first county fair in Ohio. I was never lucky enough to pull that off again, but I was so appreciative of the wonderful learning experiences like that as a youngster. I have 4-H to thank for help shaping me ever since and to evolve into the person that I am today. Fast forward to 1998, I was introduced to UConn 4-H and the UConn Extension system for the first time. I had been a small animal practicing veterinarian in Windsor, and was challenged by a friend to start up a veterinary science 4-H club and introduce young people to what my profession had to offer. This was an opportunity to give back to the community after I received so much while growing up. Hence, “The First Town Veterinary Science 4-H Club“ got its start that year. We have flourished every year since; something that’s been one of the most fulfilling things I have accomplished in my life.
ES: What do you do in your role as an Extension volunteer?
LP: As a volunteer, I am all of the following: a leader, a teacher, a coordinator, and best of all, a very proud advisor to many young people. As a volunteer I have put in countless hours with my organization to help it grow and become the educational tool that it is.
ES: Why do you volunteer your time to this Extension program?
LP: I am often asked that question on why I do it. My emphatic response is always that I do it “for the kids!” Being a parent myself, they really do matter, and being able to guide them and to show them the way, is so gratifying and heartwarming. Just to know that I played a small role in their lives as they grew up, is so comforting and gives me great pride.
ES: How does volunteering with the Extension program benefit you?
LP: Volunteering through 4-H has allowed me to maintain a connection with young people and to stay relevant. It keeps me young and allows me to be a kid amongst kids, like Peter Pan who never wanted to grow up. At my age, 4-H has been my fountain of youth, where I can make a difference with young people. I hope that their parents see me as a good role model, and in setting a good example of what a warm and caring veterinarian should be.
ES: How do you feel like your volunteer work is making an impact?
LP: I have always tried to make a positive impact on kid’s lives. I show them through their love for their pets in how to be caring and compassionate to all. We have performed many community service projects over the years and have been impactful to senior citizens in nursing homes through our pets, provided low cost Rabies Vaccination Clinics locally, and partnered with Fidelco Guide Dogs. What better way to give back to the community!
ES: What is your favorite memory with this Extension program?
LP: My favorite memory in 4-H was our club’s involvement in the Dog Walk in Windsor at an area park. Over a seven year stretch starting 20 years ago and with the help of the surrounding community, our club orchestrated an annual event that brought together many dog lovers. The kids “lived it, ran it and owned it”, and got to see two rescue dogs go into service work with our most famous being, Chance. He was a highly trained Golden Retriever that assisted a local lady that was wheelchair bound. Our club got a lot of wonderful media coverage with the success of our Dog Walk and Chance. More importantly, it’s what the kids took away from that experience.
ES: Do you have any advice for new and current Extension volunteers?
LP: My advice to anyone wishing to volunteer is to follow your heart. Take a leap of faith and get involved with our youth through 4-H. After all, they are our future!
It’s been said that the more we give, the happier we feel. Volunteering increases self-confidence. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and identity, as it has with me.
UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more and enroll your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
- Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
- Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
- Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
- Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. Learn more about our volunteer programs at s.uconn.edu/volunteers.
Interview edited for space and clarity.
Article by Emily Syme