About the Help Desk
The purpose of the Help Desk is to provide unbiased, research based, home gardening, landscape and horticultural assistance to homeowners. The Help Desk gets questions from 3 sources: emails, phone calls and walk-ins. Walk-ins may also bring in plant or insect specimens for identification or treatment options. You are not expected to know all the answers. In fact, it is OK to tell the client that you need to research the issue and then get back to them. The Help Desk computer has an extensive online reference library and there is a bookshelf with books on many horticulture topics. In addition, you have your fellow MGs as resources. By doing research, you will find yourself growing in your own knowledge as you help others with their horticultural issues. Questions regarding commercial agriculture, farming, animal husbandry, acreage management, etc., are referred to the County Extension Agent. Because we represent Texas A&M, our recommendations must follow Texas A&M horticultural research and guidelines.
Volunteering at the Help Desk
If you are inquisitive, enjoy research and learning, and willing to “Make a Difference” by sharing your Master Gardener training and experience with our Williamson County neighbors, then joining the Help Desk team may be the volunteer opportunity you are looking for. Because the Help Desk is such an important part of our community education and outreach, we provide tailored training to get you certified to work the Help Desk as well as some special incentives to emphasize our appreciation for your volunteer contributions.
Training. Only MGs that complete Help Desk certification requirements will be allowed to work Help Desk shifts without supervision. All other MGs including students and interns that are interested in joining the Help Desk team or just learning more about this unique project are encouraged to sign up for a 2-hour “over the shoulder” observation shift with one of our MGs that is Help Desk certified. If you decide to join the Help Desk team after this orientation, you will be expected to complete 6-10+ hours of training tailored to your individual skill level. Prospective trainees should have basic Windows computer skills to take this training.
Additionally, each trainee will be asked to commit to at least 10 volunteer hours (5 HD shifts) at the Help Desk once they complete their Help Desk certification. During the initial training shifts your Help Desk trainer will insure you are familiar with the Help Desk Operations Manual, including working the computer, phone and microscope while researching and answering client questions. Training is completed when you both agree you know the procedures. At this point, if you are currently MG Certified, you will also be Help Desk Certified. Otherwise, you will remain in trainee status for the Help Desk until you complete your MG Certification.
Incentives. Help Desk Certified MGs can count up to 50% of their Help Desk shift hours as Continuing Education (CE) hours not to exceed 6 hours annually (travel time not included). This maximum allowance of 6 hours equals one half (50%) of our WCMGA annual (Nov – Oct) 12-hour CE requirement. Log all other Help Desk work including travel as volunteer hours.
Example A: A student/intern volunteer takes 10 hours of Help Desk training (five 2-hour shifts). Log all 10 training hours as Help Desk volunteer hours (no travel time without MG certification). Once Help Desk training is complete as well as MG Certification, we will designate trainee as Help Desk certified. After Help Desk certification, volunteer works 10 more Help Desk hours during the year (five 2-hour shifts). Now, as a Certified MG this volunteer can also log the 2.5 hours of travel time expended to perform these five shifts. Including travel, this example totals 12.5 volunteer hours which the MG could log entirely as 12.5 Help Desk volunteer hours or split them up between 7.5 volunteer and 5 CE hours. Note: the limit for logging CE hours related to the Help Desk is 1 hour (50%) per standard published 2-hour shift in VMS not to exceed 6 CE hours annually.
Example B: A Certified MG volunteer takes 10 hours of Help Desk training (five 2-hour shifts) and also expends 2.5 hours for travel. This individual can log all 12.5 hours as Help Desk volunteer hours. Subsequently, after completing Help Desk certification, this MG works 20 additional Help Desk shift hours that year (ten 2-hour shifts) and also expends 5 hours for travel. This MG can either log all 25 hours as Help Desk volunteer hours or split them up between CE and volunteer hours limited only by the maximum annual Help Desk CE allowance of 6 hours, which results in a 6 CE/19 volunteer hour allocation in this scenario.
Other incentives for Help Desk participation include public recognition at the monthly meetings and/or in the WCMGA newsletter recognizing Help Desk Certification for those MGs completing training as well as those designated as Help Desk trainers. Members of the Help Desk team will also qualify for applicable MG pin awards recognizing specific volunteer hour milestones, plus MGs working 30 or more shift hours at the Help Desk (fifteen 2-hour shifts not counting travel) will qualify for an apparel award (like shirt, apron, or hat) with a unique Help Desk logo.
Reach Back. Although our first priority is having someone physically at the Help Desk on designated shift days to answer phones and work with walk-in clients as well as answer emails, the Help Desk is also developing a process to augment the core Help Desk team with a pool of other MG experts. We are looking at options to involve more of our experienced MGs with answering Help Desk questions externally, especially those with unique experience or specialized training. This capability, which could include volunteer hours worked from home by phone or email and possibly site visits, would expand our productivity during busy periods and peak demands when we are challenged to assist clients in a timely manner.
Signing Up on the Help Desk Calendar
Help Desk Hours. Help Desk shifts are two hours long, either 10-12 or 12-2. Spring/Summer Hours are March through September, Tuesdays and Fridays except Holidays. Winter Hours are October through February, on Tuesdays except Holidays.
Login to VMS to sign up for the Help Desk. Select the Help Desk link under Event Calendars. The calendar will show the days and times that are available to volunteer. The current month is displayed, but you can click the small arrows to the left or right of the Month title to see previous or future months. Select an available day and time where there is an opening and click the link. At the bottom of the page, click Volunteer for Event. If you have a conflict, click Unvolunteer at the bottom of the page in VMS using the same process as signing up. Up to 2 MGs can be signed up for the same shift, particularly if one is being trained by the other. Note: For Help Desk training, make sure there is a qualified MG available to train you before signing up for a shift. Once you are Help Desk certified you may sign up for any shift/s that are convenient.