Advanced Master Gardener-Tree Steward: Training to Enhance Community Volunteerism

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  • 1 Graduate student, Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0319.
  • 2 Research associate, Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0327.
  • 3 Professor, Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0327.
  • 4 Assistant professor, Department of Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0327.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Advanced Master Gardener-Tree Steward (AMGTS) program provides advanced training in leadership development and arboriculture to MG volunteer educators so they may expand the influence of extension through leadership in community forestry. A statewide survey of agents, MGs, and foresters served as the basis for developing the training package, which was funded in part by the Virginia Department of Forestry. According to a statewide survey, 70% of VCE MGs and extension agents with MG programs would like to be involved in community tree programming, while only 26% was currently involved. Typically, agents cited limited staff and volunteer resources as the primary factors in restricting program expansion. Furthermore, 90% of municipal foresters indicated they would like to work with trained volunteers. The AMGTS program simultaneously answers the desire of MGs to expand their role in the community landscape and the need of VCE to expand its outreach with increasingly limited resources. AMGTS training, guided by a 10-unit resource book, integrates technical and program management expertise to foster volunteer pride and self-sufficiency. This allows MG tree stewards to coordinate much of their own training and recruit and manage non-MG volunteers to whom they can provide limited training for specific projects, thus allowing program expansion without additional staff. The training is designed for delivery by knowledgeable professionals in the local community, such as arborists, horticulturists, college professors, extension specialists, MGs, and others who can provide quality training following the program guidelines.

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