"Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now," according to Alan Lakein, well-known time management author. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension is trying to do just that in two separate planning exercises currently under way. The first is a broad effort called Creating Our Future that will gather input from internal and external stakeholders on how Extension can be efficient, effective, and relevant in the coming decades. The second addresses the future of 4-H camps.
The economic landscape for everyone has changed since 2008, requiring adjustments, changes, and reflection on those things that are vital versus merely important. Believing that the time to plan for a crisis is before you are in one, UK Cooperative Extension embarked on a process of strategic discussions to chart a path to where we want to be in the future. The process, called Creating Our Future, is being led by Rick Maurer, professor in Community and Leadership Development, and a committee representing internal and external stakeholders of UK Extension.
The "Future" committee is tasked with determining how UK Cooperative Extension can be relevant, effective, and efficient. To accomplish this, they will be collecting broad input on how well people understand and are satisfied with Extension. In addition, they will determine the reactions and evaluations of our stakeholders to possible changes in staffing patterns at the local level.
Staffing discussions are seldom comfortable, and that is understandable. Our clientele value and respect our agents and don't want to do anything that would take away from the local resources at the county level. Be assured, the UK Cooperative Extension is a county-based system and will remain so, irrespective of future changes in staffing patterns. In an on-going pilot project where we have one agent covering two counties, all parties involved had to agree the shared staffing arrangement benefited everyone, but especially the counties affected by the change.
The second planning process focuses on the 4-H camping program and has been under way for more than a year. The planning committee has analyzed other states' programs, our camp history, and past strategic plans for each camp. The committee was charged with looking past the immediate needs of camps to dream about where the camping program needs to be.
Someone has said that for planning to be successful, it must be followed with hard work. The camp planning process has identified five areas of work for the future success of the camping program. These areas are leadership, facilities, program, marketing, and fundraising.
The leadership goal of the Camp Strategic Plan is under way by revamping the Camp Improvement Committees, having job descriptions for volunteers, and clearer expectations for agents. These committees have long served the needs of the camps and the College but are being re-energized as they become the camp-by-camp implementation of the five-part State Strategic Camp Plan. Let's be clear that this is not just a job for our volunteer partners; the College is committed as well. Many improvements have been made at camps using new or re-allocated funds, including cabins, high ropes courses, renovated meeting buildings, paddleboats, and improved docks.
Let's continue to bring the future into the present so we can address it now.
Never Too Young to Lead
This was the drill: the LaRue County High School Band would finish practicing one of its numbers for football halftime. As part of the band's lead team, Zach Thurman would herd band members back into formation, relay instructions from the band director, and answer fellow musicians' questions, all the time lugging his tuba around the football field.
And another scene: at Central Hardin High School, Kate Dennis led an FFA leadership workshop, armed with a bandanna and masking tape. She taped a maze on the ground and, as other teenagers stepped up in pairs, she told one to don a blindfold and instructed the other to lead the blindfolded partner through the maze. It was a lesson in how to communicate, how to listen, how to trust.
These scenarios occurred after both Zach and Kate "graduated" from the 4-H Teen Leadership Academy. Similar 4-H programs are offered across the state, but this particular program is the only one in which five counties—Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, and Meade—have brought teens together. The program, now in its fourth year, is modeled on county leadership programs for adults and meets monthly during the school year.
Both Zach and Kate give credit to the academy for minting their leadership skills. "I don't think I would have been able to lead that workshop before the academy," Kate said. Zach thinks the academy made him a stronger leader at 4-H camp as well as in band. "I was more active at camp this past summer," he said. "I led kids more to try to get them to do things."
Up to 25 teenagers in grades 8 through 11 are accepted annually for the academy. Its monthly sessions have included a field trip to Frankfort to learn about state government and a speech/demonstration day for honing communication skills. In one session this year, academy members learned about teamwork in a "ropes" day.
The academy has brought together a wide range of kids within its five-county net: everybody from the teenager who lives on a farm to the one who lives at Fort Knox. That diversity, like the sessions themselves, has been eye opening for these teenagers.
"I never really thought that we'd become friends," Kate said, talking about meeting kids from other counties. "It's cool to see how people come together, bond," she said. "We've stayed in touch."
Extension 4-H agents have seen a marked turnaround in the number of teens who now feel comfortable speaking in public and an upsurge in teens who said they gained skills including citizenship, entrepreneurship, team building, and networking. Nearly three-quarters of academy participants have taken on new leadership positions in 4-H.
The Arts for Health
Mary, severely autistic, hadn't spoken a word in 25 years. Her family always brought her with them to Artists Collaborative Theatre (ACT) in Pikeville for her niece Emily's rehearsals for "The Miracle Worker." The play tells the story of Annie Sullivan, the teacher who brought Helen Keller out of the darkness imposed by her blindness and deafness.
On stage, Helen, played by Emily, learned the word for water in the play's most triumphant moment.
"Wa… wa…," said Helen.
"Wa… wa…," echoed Mary in a moment no less triumphant.
"As plain as you and I are talking right now," said Stephanie Richards, ACT founder, referring to Mary's first words. "From that point, she now communicates pretty openly. She can say hi. She can say bye. You can say, 'Mary, do you want to go get some popcorn?' and she'll get up and get popcorn."
It's a tale dramatic enough for its own play, and for Richards, just one of the many stories behind Pike County's burgeoning arts scene. Over and over again, in the seven years she's been the county's fine arts extension agent, she has seen theater, art, and music change people's lives.
"The arts are just a vehicle, so that the real accomplishments are the stories along the way," she said.
More and more studies are uncovering the relationship between the arts and health. According to the National Institutes of Health, scientists are measuring the body's response when a person is exposed to the arts, and researchers are exploring how the arts can help in the recovery process from disease, injury, or trauma.
The Healing Arts Project, a cooperative venture between UK Cooperative Extension's Pike Arts and Pikeville Medical Center, is an art contest open to grades 9-12. Winners have their artwork put on permanent display in the medical center's patient rehabilitation wing. Richards recounted the story of a man who had been permanently brain-damaged in an automobile accident.
"They hadn't gotten any stimulation from him until they took him to see the art on the rehab floor," she said. "When he viewed that artwork, they saw a reaction."
Music, too, can aid in rehabilitation, which brings us to one more story, a story that involves "one of those lifetime career moments" for Richards.
Nearly 80 adult daycare participants traveled from Letcher County to attend ACT's production of the country music revue "Honky Tonk Angels." Because many in the audience were afflicted with dementia, Richards prepared the cast to be interrupted on occasion. But neither she nor they expected what happened when three actresses began to sing "Amazing Grace."
"They hit the first couple of notes, and then you started to hear a couple people in the audience join in. And then the entire audience started singing and moving to 'Amazing Grace.' I got chills just now talking about it," Richards said. "It was one of those moments that you thank the universe and God that you got to be there."
A Lifelong Impact
In the past five years, Cindy Jolly has seen many students gain important leadership and citizenship skills through a project she oversees at Simmons Middle School in Fleming County. The program is part of a nationwide effort to reach at-risk youth and their families. It's called Children, Youth and Families at Risk, a Sustainable Communities Program supported through the U. S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The Kentucky CYFAR program has two host sites: Fleming and Lawrence counties.
Each year, the Fleming County project involves approximately 400 students, faculty, and staff. Jolly, an extension program assistant, said the program has had a big impact on the school and the community by promoting social skills, community projects, and fostering leadership skills.
"Our CYFAR members gain a sense of pride in their school, in their community, and in themselves," she said.
Projects have included community beautification, sewing, health and nutrition, table etiquette, self-esteem, safety, recycling, and a military Christmas card project. Jolly said it goes way beyond those programs.
"All our eighth-grade students learn to tie a tie and all about proper table etiquette," she said. "Then we ask them to put their skills to use in a formal lunch setting. They serve meals to their peers with help from community volunteers."
Jolly said students will have long-term benefit from the etiquette lessons as they get older and attend conferences, weddings, and job interviews. Eighth-grade math teacher Paige Planck agreed.
"Awesome. That is the best word I can think of to describe the etiquette program that my class participated in," Planck said. "This is a much needed life skill that isn't taught in our school system. For most students, this was the first formal (meal) they have had."
After a project where CYFAR students collected plastic bags for recycling, they wanted to create a permanent collection fixture at the school where students could bring in plastic bags for recycling year-round.
Jolly said the program stirs up ideas like that in many of the students, and they will take those responsible, sustainable ideas into their communities for the rest of their lives. She said through partnership between Fleming County's Cooperative Extension Service, the Fleming County School System, and the Youth Service Center, many of the CYFAR programs will continue even after the national grant ends in May.
Come 'n Get It!
On a typical summer Thursday evening in downtown London, you can stroll through the farmers market to pick up locally grown goodies and listen to live music at a concert series sponsored by a local bank. The Laurel County office of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has a certified kitchen right in the heart of the market, so family and consumer sciences agent Judi O'Bryan decided to make some customers' wishes come true by offering a grab-n-go meal on those evenings. They called the eight-week program Dinner Bucket.
"People had been asking us to do something like this ever since we built the kitchen," she said. "We thought it would be a good way to promote Extension and local, fresh food by preparing a meal people could order and pick up—mostly with items from the market."
O'Bryan said she and her staff shopped the market each weekend and then formed a menu based on what's available. Local folks made reservations for the meal in advance and then extension staff prepared and packed up the weeks' offering for pick up on Thursday evenings. The meals were far from fast-food fare. Typical menu items included lamb kabobs in pitas, cheddar quiche, carmelized green beans, summer squash, and chicken Alfredo. Desserts ranged from fried fruit pies and berry trifles to zucchini chocolate sensation.
"It was a lot of work," said O'Bryan, who admitted she could not have pulled it off without a great extension staff including Tina Bledsoe, Nicholas Horvath, Velma Mullins, Ashley Adkins, Lisa Roark, and Melissa Boyd. "The best thing about it was the awareness we were able to build in our clientele about the programs we offer in the kitchen."
Hardly a week goes by without some type of instructional programming in the kitchen from making candy to canning and more. The staff also conducted a survey of Dinner Bucket participants after the 2011 program ended and found that most were more aware of kitchen programming and would probably shop at the market more.
O'Bryan said a planned farmers market cookbook will include all the recipes from the Dinner Bucket program.
A total of 18,921 producers throughout the state have reported adopting one or more practices learned from extension programs. These new practices have resulted in increased profits, reflecting an economic impact of $25 million. 6,362 producers reported utilizing new marketing opportunities and strategies to accomplish these results.
Diet, Nutrition, and Healthy Living
According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, 306,491 people in Kentucky receive supplemental nutrition assistance. The average family benefit is $242.53 per month. Extension, through its SNAP Education program, works with low-income families in Kentucky to manage their resources better. 659,468 contacts were made to teach nutrition and budgeting. 57,262 made lifestyle changes for the purpose of improving their health.
Life Skills Development
Youth who participate in 4-H are three times more likely to actively contribute to their community compared to those not in 4-H. Approximately one out of every three Kentucky youths in grades K-12, or 248,275 youth participated in 4-H during 2010. 89,000 reported acquiring one or more life skills as a result of participation. 19,853 individuals reported changes in knowledge, opinions, skill, or aspirations related to parenting or personal relationships as a result of extension programming.
Agriculture and Environmental Quality
More than 40,000 Kentuckians adopted practices relating to conserving and protecting soil and water resources. This resulted in landowners using new or additional conservation practices on a total of 529,613 acres.
Social and Economic Opportunity
In July of 2010, the unemployment rate in Kentucky was 10 percent. Extension is making a difference in communities across Kentucky. 42 new tourism businesses were formed with Extension's help. 2,565 individuals were involved in 248 community coalitions. 37,945 became involved in addressing issues of their community. 11,580 learned new skills in Entrepreneurial Development. 3,162 were enrolled in home-based business/processing workshops, and 871 businesses were reached with retention/expansion efforts.
Leadership and Volunteerism
The Independent Sector has estimated the value of volunteer time in 2010 at $21.36 per hour. In Kentucky 38,197 youth and adults volunteered through the 4-H program. Many of these volunteers have given multiple hours of valuable time to the youth of our state. Critical leadership skills were developed through extension-related programming efforts by 48,350 residents. A total of 60,664 improved skills in communication, problem solving, or group processes.
Nearly 25,000 Kentuckians increased their knowledge of the governmental process. More than 20 percent became more involved in governmental processes as a result of addressing significant community issues.