Al Alborn

Al Alborn

I have been a master gardener volunteer for Virginia Cooperative Extension - Prince William (VCE-PW) since 2002.  Over the years, I learned that VCE-PW is about much more than gardening.  I also realized that there are a lot of people in Prince William County who aren’t familiar with its many programs.  

To “fill in the blanks,” I interviewed Paige Thacker, unit director of VCE-PW.  Thacker walked me through VCE-PW’s five major programs.  It turns out there is something for everyone.

Environment and Natural Resources is the program I enjoy the most.  This is where you will find the master gardeners.  You may remember an earlier column I wrote about a friend asking about a diseased tree.  The horticultural help line (703-792-6285) should be your first call for research-based help and advice regarding your yard, trees, plants and bugs.

4-H Youth Education always meant cows and farms to me.  No more. VCE-PW’s 4-H is much more. It consists of community and project clubs across the county.  They are into robotics, alpaca and sewing and have a junior camp in the summer and the fair camp in August.

Financial Education and Housing shares tools and skills to help residents better manage their personal finances.  Folks preparing for home ownership or trying to reduce debt or build their savings should start here.  They are always looking for new master financial educator volunteers.

Parent Education addresses life’s toughest job:  how to raise kids and strengthen family relationships.  It offers classes to parents of young children, school-age children, and teens.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program education teaches how to make smart food choices to promote health and prevent chronic diseases.  It helps families on a limited income get the most “bang for the buck” with their food budget dollars. 

Thacker stressed that VCE-PW believes in partnering to achieve its goals.  She was particularly proud of a partnership between VCE-PW and the Virginia Career Works - Prince William Center in Woodbridge to establish a Financial Empowerment Center.  The center provides financial coaching, small business coaching, financial workshops and free tax preparation.

There are VCE-PW volunteers of every age and flavor.  If you are looking for a way to serve your community, learn new skills and connect with people active in our community, or just looking for something to do in retirement, explore VCW-PW’s many opportunities.  They do a lot more than gardening.   Volunteer opportunities include training and mentorship and flexibility in when and where you volunteer.

VCE-PW is an example of your tax dollars at work.  Over 1,600 volunteers delivered almost 36,000 hours of service worth over $800,000 to our community last year.

The organization is constantly evolving to meet the needs of Prince William and is seeking community input to better understand our educational needs.  To that end, there is a survey online until April 1 – it’s at  Check out VCE-PW’s website to see what they are up to, and fill out the survey to share what you think they should be doing in the future.

Today’s world is about reliable content, information you can trust and knowledge you can use.  VCE-PW is in the knowledge business.  It delivers research-based knowledge through education.  They share it freely.  You can be on the delivery end as a volunteer, the receiving end as a consumer, or both!

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at

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