Deloris Mae Jones has been involved in 4-H for more than half a century in the state of Florida, and her work with 4-H has transformed both communities and lives.
Her work with 4-H began in 1945 in Duval County, where she was an outstanding 4-H club member. She won numerous awards at the local, county and state levels. She showed her leadership skills early in life at the Southside Community 4-H Club, where she held the offices of county council delegate, chaplain, treasurer, secretary, vice president and president. Under her leadership the club was a leader in county activities.
She won several awards in clothing, health, and food and nutrition demonstrations at the county, district, and state levels. She was the first 4-H member in Duval County to place first in the Sears & Roebucks baby chicken contest. She participated in county events, summer camp, and state 4-H short courses. She became vice president of the Girls State 4-H Council and attended the Southern Regional Camp for 4-H members in 1952 at Tuskegee Institute, which was the highest honor an African-American 4-H member could achieve at that time.
After graduating from high school, Jones continued working with 4-H. She spoke at summer camp and trained young 4-H members in how to deliver demonstrations. For her continued dedication to 4-H, she was recognized as an outstanding Duval County 4-H alumnus. She attended Bethune-Cookman College.
In 1961, she was hired as the African-American 4-H agent in Madison County. She served the 4-H program for thirty years as an extension agent and volunteer. "Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is your best," Jones said on many occasions to 4-H members looking for guidance. Her 4-H members were recognized with many awards, but the life skills they learned are what mattered the most to Jones.
“She encourages youth in their efforts to become good, productive, and outstanding citizens through their involvement in 4-H,” said Melva Stephens-Morfaw. “Ms. Jones has attempted through the years to be an inspiration and role model in promoting leadership qualities and personal development of the youth of her community.”
As home economics leader in Madison County, Jones provided support for 4-H by implementing a nutrition and health program. She presented educational programs to 4-H clubs and trained Consumer Choices judging teams. To help provide male role models for children from single-parent homes, she instituted a “4-H adoption” program that recruited volunteer “fathers” to spend quality time with the boys.
“Ms. Jones instilled in the lives of Madison County Youth the importance of expressing their talents through the many programs that 4-h offered. She believed that each 4-H’er had a unique blend of talent, integrity, and knowledge that could be shared with others,” said Stephens-Morfaw. “Ms. Jones stressed to each person involved in 4-H the meaning of the 4-H pledge, to use their head, heart, hands, and health as tools for development to make their best better.”
She is well-remembered for her work in the community. “She tackled topics and issues that were not easy to deal with in a rural county where the education level was among the lowest in the state, and housing was inadequate or substandard in many instances,” said Stephens-Morfaw. “Health and nutrition was in dire need of attention and improvement.”
Jones helped the county health department obtain vital statistical data from a health fair on hypertension. The benchmark data led to efforts to establish a health care facility to accommodate the medical needs of low to moderate income Madison county residents. The Tri-County Community Health Center was established and staffed. She assisted in securing a grant to fund an educational program for teen parents.
“The radiance and enthusiasm that she displayed created a love for 4-H throughout Madison County. Ms. Jones told me that “4-H builds character” and I believed her,” said Stephens-Morfaw, who volunteered with the 4-H program. Jones also bought uniforms for 4-H members in financial need.
In 1983, she organized an Improvement Committee in the southwest community of Madison to address the need for street paving and home improvements. Because of her efforts, Madison received a $950,000 federal grant to fund road-paving and home rehabilitation in the community.
“Ms. Jones was recognized as a persistent woman who never relinquished and idea until it had been brought to its fullest fruition,” said Stephens-Morfaw. “Believe me, there is a never a dull moment when Ms. Jones is around and one can almost always expect the unexpected. Who else would work by candlelight during a storm to complete a grant? Of course, Ms. Jones did that in order for 4-H’ers to have summer employment.”
Although she is now retired many 4-H members continue to seek her wisdom and guidance in their 4-H endeavors. She has received numerous awards and honors, and was the first extension agent to be honored with six major awards from the extension professional organizations.