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The Latest Dirt - Sept 2022

Qualifying Hours Explained

By Robyn Barker

Photo Credit: https://www.maxpixel.net/static/photo/ 2x/Minute-Wall-Hours-Time-Black-Metal-Dial-7110808.jpg
Photo Credit: https://www.maxpixel.net/static/photo/ 2x/Minute-Wall-Hours-Time-Black-Metal-Dial-7110808.jpg

While working on reappointment this year, we discovered that the subject of qualifying hours was a source of confusion for a lot of UC Master Gardener volunteers. This article is intended to serve as a resource on this subject. If you don’t want to read it now, you may want to bookmark its location so that you can return in the future if you have questions.

What hours are required?

Our hours requirements are governed by the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program’s Administrative Handbook for Program Staff, dated June 1, 2011 (accessed August 26, 2022).

The Handbook says that during first year UC Master Gardener volunteers must perform a minimum of fifty (50) hours of “qualifying services activities” (Handbook §4-IV(A)). This is calculated from the date of certification as UC Master Gardeners to the end of their first full fiscal year, usually about a 15-to-16-month period. No “qualifying continuing education” is required.

Thereafter, during each year of service (calculated from July 1 to June 30), each UC Master Gardener volunteer must complete:

  1. A minimum of twenty-five hours of “qualifying UC Master Gardener volunteer service,” and
  2. A minimum of twelve hours of “qualifying continuing education.” (Handbook §3-VI (B)

During COVID, the statewide UC Master Gardener office modified hours requirements. All these modifications have now expired.

Why are hours important?

Hours are required as one of the criteria permitting an MG volunteer to remain active in the UC Master Gardener Program, or more colloquially, to “reappoint.” (§3-VI) This process occurs every year starting in May and, for volunteers reappointing, ending June 30. Then an administrative review starts, which is not completed until the end of July.

Equally importantly, volunteer and continuing education hours demonstrate interest and commitment to the program as a whole, and may be used to secure or justify continued funding of the activities we want to accomplish. It also may be used as a tool to evaluate individual projects within our county. Taking the extra step to record the hours of service you perform multiplies their value!

How do I record my hours?

Performance of “qualifying continuing education and volunteer service activities” must be documented digitally on the UCCE MGP Volunteer Management System (“VMS”; Handbook §4-V(A)). Entering your hours regularly is also an obligation you agree to when you sign the Code of Conduct.

The best time to record your hours on VMS is immediately after you finish performing them. This is a task easy to forget, and, later, those hours may be difficult to remember. Some volunteers record their hours in a notebook or on a calendar to keep track of them. This is a good memory assist, but for those hours to count, they must be recorded on VMS.

In Contra Costa County, hours are recorded under the name of the Project the volunteer is performing service for. The projects listed in VMS are those that the Executive Committee has formally recognized. New projects and ad hoc committees may not show up. That does not mean that hours volunteering for those projects don’t count! For purposes of budgeting and recording hours, those new projects or committees will be under the  umbrella of an existing project.

If you don’t know which projects you should be recording your hours under, ask whoever is managing the work you are doing how you should record your hours.

Note that the “Is this a Calendared Event” option doesn’t work very well. I consistently check “No” and just describe the activity under the option “Event Name/Description.”

Your hours for this year and your “lifetime” hours as a UC Master Gardener show up in the upper righthand corner of the VMS homepage. Note, though, that these hours are rounded up for each half hour, e.g., if a volunteer has only performed 11.5 hours, the homepage on VMS will show the number of hours as 12. A few volunteers reappointed last year as “completed all hours” even though they were short a half hour because of this glitch. Your actual hours will show up if you press the “View Hours”  button and check the totals on the detailed view.

What is “qualifying continuing education”?

Under the Handbook (§4-III(B)), all continuing education activities must be approved in advance by the UCCE County Director to assure they meet UC standards. For Bay Area counties, we have very detailed guidelines for which activities can be credited for continuing education. Approved in March of 2021, these guidelines can be found in VMS under the News/Docs tab. These are largely educational activities sponsored by the UC Master Gardener Program, including training classes, workshops, seminars, and conferences. Under the guidelines, approved non-UCANR readings, presentations or classes are capped at four (4) hours a year. For specific suggestions, our Continuing Education project published a list of approved CE options, which is also located in VMS.

What is “qualifying MG volunteer service”?

Like continuing education, qualifying volunteer services must be approved in advance by the County Director to assure that UC standards are met. Unlike with continuing education, a guidelines document has not yet been issued for the Bay Area counties. Nonetheless, under §4-IV, qualifying service must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be consistent with UC Master Gardener Program priorities, core issues and policy.
  2. It must be performed free of charge
  3. It must be outreach and/or educational in nature, and/or must be UCCE programs. The Handbook lists several activities that would qualify, including the obvious ones like answering home gardening and pest management questions, writing unpaid articles, giving lectures and demonstrations, and working on research projects. Also included are more mundane tasks such as delivering supplies, organizing MG activities, setting up activities, helping to develop program direction, and even organizing reference materials and
    clerical and administrative work for the UC Master Gardener program.

Non-qualifying service includes:

  1. Attendance at social meetings or holiday parties.
  2. Work (whether paid or unpaid) for outside organizations (e.g., community groups, etc.) that satisfied the requirements for participation or membership in those organizations (no “double dipping”).
  3. Physical labor, such as for a community or school garden. The County Director has discretion to approve physical labor on an exception basis if its purpose is the demonstration of UCCE methods.
  4. Travel time to and from volunteer activities, although in our County travel time is approved if the travel is the actual job, such as transporting seminar or exhibit supplies.

What if my question isn’t answered here?

Please feel free to contact Jon Dwyer, who is the co-lead for Volunteer Services, at jon_dwyer@yahoo.com. If you’re flummoxed by VMS, please reach out to David George, who is our VMS Administrator, at davegeorge7@comcast.net. You can contact Terri Takusagawa with any questions about Continuing Education at t.territ@comcast.netdavegeorge7@comcast.net. And as always, you can contact our Program Coordinator, Dawn Kooyumjian, at dakooyumjian@ucanr.edu.