Damon Miller Sr. was a high profile leader in Florida 4-H, working as an extension agent, program leaders, and State 4-H leader. He assisted in planning and coordinating the Florida 4-H Legislature, 4-H Public Speaking, and the 4-H Share the Fun programs from 1976 through his retirement in 2002. And even today in retirement, Miller continues to volunteer his time with the State 4-H Legislature program.
He became involved with 4-H early in life. As a 4-H member growing up in rural Georgia from 1958-1963, Miller participated in public speaking and poultry projects. “When I was small and growing up in rural Georgia, I was in 4-H myself. I remember the mailman bringing me chicks in the mail for my 4-H poultry project. The chicks would peep inside the package,” said Miller. He would receive about 50 chicks in the mail in March and kept a 4-H record book for his project.
Miller remembers the adults in 4-H who invested time in his development. "Growing up in 4-H, I remember the adults who helped me learn and grow as a person. They worked so hard all the time, and yet they still had time for me. Their investment of time told me that I was important to them and it made the difference for me,” said Miller.
He encourages others to volunteer. “Volunteering to work with young people is one of the most rewarding things that anyone can do. Mentoring relationships are important because they provide young people with living examples to emulate and use as a pattern when making decisions governing their own futures,” said Miller.
Miller started working for the Cooperative Extension Service in Leon County in 1969 as a general county extension agent specializing in vegetable production, 4-H youth development and community resource development.
Looking back, he says that one of his greatest accomplishments in his more than twenty-year career with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service was community development work he did in Leon County in the early 1970s with the Macon community. He helped the community get sewage service, water hookups, paved streets, and traffic signs. He still keeps in touch with people in the community, and said, “I can go there now and say I played a role in making this happen.”
Beyond his professional responsibilities, Miller refined his public speaking skills even further through Toastmasters and he became a much sought-after trainer for public speaking skills. “He became a respected and effective speaker for youth groups, encouraging self development, achievement and community involvement,” said John Woeste.
“I watched Damon deliver a public speaking training program for senior 4-H members at 4-H Camp Ocala during Ambassador Weekend in 2001,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, former State 4-H Council advisor. “He used a learning by doing model to help them practice and helped them improve. Many of these 4-H members were already fairly strong public speakers, but each one walked away with a new skill or insight that improved their confidence and ability.”
Miller was appointed to the state 4-H staff in the 1970s. He served as the FAMU 4-H program coordinator, organizing 4-H minority outreach programs in the panhandle and north Florida, until he was appointed state 4-H leader in January 1998. Both of his sons, Damon, Jr. and Ardis Miller, were involved in 4-H programs while growing up.
“He has been an effective voice, especially with black youth, promoting community involvement and community-based personal development,” said Woeste. “Beyond his leadership invested at a state, regional and national level, he championed the involvement of youth in community and day-to-day life. Meaningful partnering with youth in community life and the importance of mentoring for youth were important.”
Miller focused on the needs of disadvantaged youth as he organized 4-H programs, spoke to parents, and invested his personal time and talent in extension work. His commitment and positive approach earned him respect in the state, regionally, and nationally.
“By his own actions and his use of speaking talent, he personified a message of goal-setting, personal development and positive involvement of young people without regard to race or social standing,” said Woeste.
His work with the Community Pride program and the State 4-H Legislature program reflected his commitment to the meaningful involvement of youth in their communities. Miller aimed to expand the entire 4-H organization to the farthest limits so it can fulfill its potential. “I want for us to become the leading proactive youth organization in Florida,” Miller said.
During his tenure as assistant dean for 4-H, Miller provided leadership for 4-H program development and evaluation. He always had an open door policy for agents, parents, faculty, staff, 4-H members and anyone wanting to discuss 4-H.
“Floridians should look at 4-H as an organization that helps young people stay on the right course in life,” said Miller. “What we have in 4-H is an educational program that is a success, because communities have banded together around the theme of voluntarism and partnership. We all should get involved and become partners to help kids.”
Miller knew no obstacle was too big when he wanted to establish a program to help young people. He actively invested many hours of his own time and skills to establish programs for all youth involved in Florida 4-H.
He never lost his faith in the power of 4-H’s learning by doing model. “We don’t design educational programs for kids. Instead, we partner with kids and involve them in program planning. They end up becoming better kids because we’ve entrusted them with some responsibility, and because we’ve demonstrated that we believe in them,” said Miller.
When budget cuts in 2001 threatened to close 4-H Camp Cloverleaf and 4-H Camp Cherry Lake, Miller said, “This is a day that none of us wanted to see. The entire 4-H family — children, teens, 4-H agents, volunteer leaders, 4-H alumni and state staff — are heartbroken over these impending closures.” Ultimately, the camps were saved and the Florida 4-H Foundation stepped in to help.
He was a steadying force amid crisis. “In spite of the budget situation, all is not lost, said Miller, in a press statement. “Our commitment to youth development has only grown stronger in the face of new challenges. Our county 4-H programs will continue. 4-H teaches young people about their connections to living things, and about the linkages between people, nature and each other. That has not changed,” said Miller.
He encouraged 4-H agents, members and staff to remember what was important. “We believe that young people learn best through hands-on education, and we provide experiences they often don’t receive in their schooling. We will continue to fulfill our mission as a land-grant institution to serve the young people in our state,” said Miller.
In reflecting on his experiences in 4-H and where he thinks 4-H is headed in the future, Miller said, “I believe 4-H will always hold true to its heart and soul. We will always place young people first. We will always be an educational organization that believes in the power of young people to change the world.”
Miller is also very involved in church activities, where he serves as an elder and director of education. He and his wife have taught a class on marriage for more than two decades. He is involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, the Suwannee River Council of Boy Scouts, Toastmasters International, the Georgia Christian Children’s Home Association, and Epsilon Sigma Phi. He served as national vice president for Phi Beta Sigma for four years.
Prior to his work with the 4-H program, Miller served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was in the U.S. Naval Reserves for six years. He received the master of science degree from Iowa State University in 1970 and a bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State University in 1969.
He retired from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service in 2002.