To celebrate National Volunteer Month, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is recognizing and celebrating the impact created every day by volunteers across the state.

Andy Crocker, AgriLife Extension senior program specialist, gerontology and health, started his professional career with AgriLife Extension in 2003 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Amarillo.

In 2012, Crocker became the Texas Master Wellness program director where his main role is to support the AgriLife Extension county agents for family and community health as they educate youth, adults, caregivers and professionals in their surrounding communities.

“The Texas Master Wellness program started in 2006 in the Dallas metro area,” Crocker said. “AgriLife Extension agents in the area knew that if they wanted to impact the wellness of the community around them, they needed to create a volunteer program to reach as many Texans as possible.” 

The volunteer program was modeled after the other statewide master volunteer programs offered by AgriLife Extension, using the agency’s resources and expertise for training volunteers and deploying them to their communities to help address health issues through AgriLife Extension education. 

“AgriLife Extension has a lot of capacity as an agency,” Crocker said. “In a state of 30 million people, the agency relies heavily on its robust volunteer network to help meet the increasing demand for education and resources. These statewide volunteer programs were created to assist and allow the agency to better reach Texans across the state.” 

Crocker sat down with us recently to talk about the Master Wellness program and the value of the volunteers within it.

What is Master Wellness? 

AgriLife Extension’s Master Wellness volunteers help leverage outreach and education in the community where they live, work and play. They focus on education related to health, nutrition, food safety, physical activity and more. Over the years, our volunteers have been increasingly able to help the local county agent more proactively and form strategies to help complete projects within their communities. We are so thankful for everyone who contributes to making their community a happier and healthier place.

Why should Texans volunteer with Master Wellness? 

Our program, addressing health and wellness, occupies a unique space of volunteer opportunities. Our volunteers are from the same communities they volunteer within, and, as a result, often know the best ways to reach their communities and audiences. Our volunteers have an inside view, which allows AgriLife Extension to make an even greater impact across Texas.

Where are Master Wellness volunteers serving? 

Our volunteers are at anything you can think of that is health related — health fairs, school resource fairs, healthy cooking demonstrations and working in their community to implement a diabetes or hypertension education program. We strive to align our volunteers with opportunities that personally interest them. For example, we have some volunteers who like to be in front of people, so they may teach a cooking demonstration. However, we have some volunteers who want to be more behind the scenes, so they may help prepare food for that same cooking demonstration. The beauty of our program is there isn’t a typical volunteer experience because there are many different things that match whatever the volunteer wants to do with some type of identified lead. 

How many Master Wellness volunteers are there throughout Texas? 

Our number of volunteers tends to fluctuate. But at any given time, we have about 200 active volunteers scattered across 60 counties in Texas. 

legs working out with weights.
Master Wellness volunteers assist others in healthy lifestyles through physical activity. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

What does Master Wellness look for in its volunteers? 

Our volunteers are committed and motivated to go out into their communities and want to help people. They do not need a lot of experience before volunteering, because we offer training courses to equip our volunteers with a strong understanding of health, nutrition, food safety and physical activity. Still, we hope they have a passion for those things because we want our volunteers to model the behavior they are teaching to the audience. 

What are the goals of volunteering with Master Wellness? 

Our program was created to help AgriLife Extension accomplish its mission to reach Texans where they are and how they are. One thing to note, Master Wellness does differ from the other master volunteer programs in AgriLife Extension because we don’t have chapters and associations. Our volunteers work directly through their local county agents to address identified needs and accomplish projects that are needed in their community. 

What do you hope the volunteers get out of volunteering with the program? 

We want our volunteers to be satisfied with the outcome of their work and keep coming back. We’ve had individuals who work in the health field who have an amazing knowledge of a specific topic, such as hypertension or physical activity, but may not necessarily be able to teach what they know. Through volunteer training, they can gain skills so they can translate their knowledge to inform the audience. Then, we have some volunteers who are simply excited to be a part of AgriLife Extension or become engaged in their community. Regardless of their reason, we are happy they are here with us.

How does someone sign up to volunteer with Master Wellness? 

The best way to become a volunteer is to contact your local county agent. If you don’t know who your county agent is, you can visit the AgriLife Extension County Offices page and find your county.

Why is Master Wellness a unique volunteer program? 

We may be the smallest of the volunteer programs within AgriLife Extension, but we are a mighty group. We can take a vegetable from a garden that Texas Master Gardeners built within a community, then we can use that vegetable to teach about its nutrition and how to safely prepare and store it.

Also, we emphasize shared leadership and decision-making between our AgriLife Extension personnel and our volunteers. We want to benefit from the expertise of the volunteers, because they may allow us to reach an audience that we’ve never been able to effectively reach before or reach an existing audience in an innovative way.

What advice would you give someone who wants to volunteer with Master Wellness? 

Have an open and willing attitude because you’ll learn a lot. Our volunteers have a good time together and have an opportunity to create a network of amazing people who make and see the impact of their work. 

Visit the Texas Master Wellness Program to learn more about how you can become a Texas Master Wellness volunteer and make a difference in your community.

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