Eagleville School junior Haylee Ferguson has been named Rutherford County’s Youth Volunteer of the Year mostly for her extensive participation in the county’s 4-H program.
Ferguson, who has attended Eagleville School since kindergarten, said she and her mother found out about the Governor’s Volunteer Stars Award while browsing social media. She attended the awards banquet last month in Franklin and said it sparked new ideas for service projects.
“It was just a very eye opening experience to me to be able to hear just about all the good that people are still doing in the world and all the ways that they are just changing lives,” said Ferguson, who served as the service chair for the county’s 4-H Honor Club for two years.
Ferguson, 17, joined the 4-H’ers in the fourth grade, a decision she attributes to her parents, Kevin and Phyllis, who participated in 4-H in high school.
“They definitely encouraged it at first, but the more I got involved, the more that I saw that it was not only impacting my future, but it greatly impacted those around me and those involved in the community as well,” said Ferguson, the club’s secretary this year.
Since taking part in the Honor Club, Ferguson has organized 24 service projects that have benefited close to 1,200 members of the community, a 4-H extension agent Amy Willis said in an email.
Willis said Ferguson “truly embodies the volunteer spirit.”
In the past three years, Ferguson has organized a gently-used toy drive for children in juvenile court, served meals to the homeless at the Nashville Rescue Mission and packed over 26,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children, a non-profit organization that sends packaged meals to impoverished nations.
“I'll never forget seeing huge bags of rice and just so many people working, but enjoying their time as well,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said being involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America combines her interests in agriculture and serving her community.
Although Ferguson has taken on multiple service projects over the years, one of the activities she most looks forward to is Agricultural Literacy Week. Each March, the high schoolers visit local elementary schools to teach younger students about the importance of agriculture.
“It affects everyone,” Ferguson said.
The idea behind the program is to encourage younger students to join the organization. She acknowledges that both organizations are rooted in agriculture but wants to dispel the idea that it’s “just farming.”
“4-H started as the tomato and corn growing club, and FFA, it started as a Future Farmers of America, but as agriculture has changed over time — just how people have diversified and grown over time — we've been able to expand to so much more,” Ferguson said.
As an upperclassman, Ferguson balances a hectic weekly schedule of academics and extracurricular activities. Ferguson, a small beef farmer, starts most days with early visits to the barn to feed her heifers. At school, it’s a regular rotation of classes, student council, BETA club and National FFA Organization activities. This is followed by evenings of basketball practice and 4-H meetings.
She admits that it can be difficult to give “100 percent” to every area of her life. She finds it possible to stay actively involved in all of the activities by focusing on the end goal of positively impacting others.
She has plans to enroll at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to study law and pursue an agricultural minor.
“What I've learned about balancing time management is if you really love it then you'll do it no matter what,” Ferguson said.