Growing up in rural West Virginia, retired extension agent Shirley Bond said she had two options other than school to be involved in the community: church and 4-H. When she was ten years old in 1967, Bond joined 4-H. She never left.
“I’ve spent a lot of years in this program,” the 65-year-old Bond said. “All these years I’ve kept learning new things. I’ve gained more self-confidence, learned to lead and be a good citizen. I still use these skills today.”
While in college, Bond worked as a 4-H program assistant. She began her professional extension career in 1967 and worked as an extension agent for 34 years in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “As an adult I saw what I gained through 4-H and realized what I could help others gain if I pursued a career in 4-H,” said Bond.
“I’ve always been somewhat of a creative person and 4-H and Extension are the only careers where you have an opportunity to create programs that meet the needs of people,” said Bond. “Teaching in schools doesn’t have the flexibility that 4-H does. In other careers you don’t have the opportunity to see the growth of people that you do in 4-H.”
Bond has impacted thousands of young people through the programs she has developed. She successfully collaborated with many agencies that provided funding for 4-H programs that were both fun and educational, and raised more than $400,000 to fund innovative 4-H programs facing critical county issues.
She managed a large urban 4-H program, which included many programs supporting environmental conservation, public speaking, and seatbelt safety. She also designed programs targeting at-risk youth. She conducted state and national workshops in water usage, waste reduction, and Ag-Venture.
“Shirley has a nack for making people feel special,” said Lamar Camp, 4-H Advisory Committee member and fellow member of the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame. “Many of her former young people, volunteers and Program Assistants became 4-H volunteers or Extension Professionals because of the great experiences they had with Shirley.”
Under her leadership, the number of adult volunteers working with the 4-H program in Hillsborough County increased dramatically. In 1987, there were 197 volunteers. By the time she retired in 2002, there were more than a thousand volunteers working with young people. She also provided leadership to expand 4-H enrollment in the county to more than 21,000 members.
Bond feels that in today’s society of single parent homes and children raised in daycare, 4-H is more important than ever before. “4-H teaches young people skills that they are not getting at home or in school,” said Bond.
The values 4-H teaches last for a lifetime, says Bond. “It provides them the opportunity to develop leadership and citizenship skills. They learn how to make informed decisions and value the importance of community service,” she said.
She sees 4-H as essential for today’s youth. “They learn to work together as a team – that it’s not ‘all about me’. They gain self-esteem and self-confidence. It’s not an organization that’s nice to have – it’s an organization that’s necessary to have,” she said.
Her attitude is evident to the people around her. “Shirley feels that 4-H is not a job, it is a way of life to help people be the best they can be,” said Camp. “She had the gift of making all of her young people and volunteers feel special and successful in whatever they did.”
Bond is still very active within Extension as well as her community. She continues to work with Ag in the Classroom and enjoys her interaction with the children as they learn.
She also works as a volunteer with President Obama’s groups for change, as well as various task forces within the city. She remains active in her church, serves as a block captain for her neighborhood watch, serves on the community school advisory committee, and is involved with the Great American Teach-in.
In reflecting on how 4-H has impacted her life, Bond said, “As a 4-H alumni, 4-H had a major influence on my life. Through 4-H, I learned at an early age to accept responsibility, make group decisions, and to cooperate with people of all ages, races and backgrounds. 4-H taught me how to speak before a group and to be a leader.”
“4-H has allowed this little girl from a poor, rural West Virginia town to have opportunities and to go places I never would have been able to go otherwise,” said Bond. “4-H influenced my career, and I can truly say that 4-H was never just a job for me, but a way of life to help people be the best they could be.”