From left, Associate State 4-H Leader Melanie Biersmith, Associate Dean of Extension Laura Perry Johnson, Associate State 4-H Leader Sue Chapman, CAES Dean Nick Place, Sara Thompson, former state 4-H Leader Tom Rodgers, Diane Davies, State 4-H Leader Arch Smith and Georgia 4-H Foundation Executive Director Johnathon Barrett celebrate Davies’ award at the recent Georgia 4-H Gala.

ATHENS — Diane Davies, retired University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H specialist and senior public service associate, received the Georgia 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Georgia 4-H Gala.

Davies received the award for her “vision, leadership and sustained support of Georgia 4-H.”

“The award was established to recognize individuals who have dedicated time, energy and resources to Georgia 4-H and is considered the highest honor Georgia 4-H can bestow,” Melanie Biersmith, an associate state 4-H leader, said. “When one considers the contributions of Diane Davies — her many years of outstanding service, the foundation she created, the legacy she developed and the impact her work has had on Georgia 4-H — it’s easy to understand why she is this year’s recipient. Not only is her work a series of considerable achievements, her work for Georgia 4-H actually represents achievements of a lifetime.”

Davies was hired by UGA Extension in 1979 to launch the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education program to serve young people while increasing revenue at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton. Despite limited funds and time, Davies developed relationships with local schools and youth groups to personally deliver curriculum to more than 2,000 participants in the first year.

More than 1.2 million participants have enjoyed the program — using the outdoors as a classroom without walls to engage K-12 students in experiences that highlight the science, natural resources and natural history of local ecosystems — since its inception. This innovative and award-winning program began with a $300 budget, a six-month timeframe and Davies’ determination.

After years of success, Davies was able to hire additional staff and expand the program to the other Georgia 4-H centers: Camp Jekyll (formerly Jekyll Island 4-H Center) and 4-H Tidelands Center on Jekyll Island, Burton 4-H Center (formerly Tybee Island 4-H Center) on Tybee Island, Wahsega 4-H Center in Dahlonega and Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton. By the mid-1990s, more than 40,000 students from all over the state were participating in the program each year.

“The importance of having children connect to the natural environment and learn from it all that it has to teach them is so vitally important today in their education,” Davies said. “To be given the chance to start the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education program has been the mission of my life’s work, and I am truly honored to be the recipient of the 2021 Georgia 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award. It is certainly the capstone of my professional career.”

After the program was well-established, Davies focused on soliciting donations and resources to develop additional educational spaces, including the Rock Eagle 4-H Center Museum of Natural History, Wildlife Ecology Building and Woodruff Aquatic buildings.

Davies remained directly involved in programming until her retirement in 2002, continuing to support the program through philanthropic contributions and service in advisory groups and committees.

“Diane Davies continues to be an advocate for the program she founded and tout its impact to all those with whom she comes in contact,” Biersmith added. “Her work was a strong foundation on which we continue to grow today.”

In 2013, the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education program celebrated its 1 millionth participant.

In 2019, Georgia 4-H celebrated the program’s 40th anniversary. During that time, the program has served more than a million participants and generated more than $77 million in revenue to support the overall operation of the state’s 4-H centers.

“Diane Davies’ contributions to 4-H inspired others across America to enhance outdoor learning opportunities,” State 4-H Leader Arch Smith said. “Much of the continued success of the Georgia 4-H facilities is a result of Diane’s efforts to develop the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education program.”

For more information about the Georgia 4-H program, visit Georgia4H.org.

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