Extension youth programming, staffing to increase

Iowa State University Extension county youth program coordinator Molly Schmitt (left) and 4-H program assistant Devan Cress have seen their jobs change as youth programs expand in the Jones County office. (Photo by Pete Temple)
Pete Temple
Express Sports/Ag Editor

     Why did Jones County Extension expand its youth and 4-H staff?

     It was simply a question of demand.

     “Our programming has grown by probably 80 percent over the last two years,” County Extension director Jennifer Fischer said. “So with all the programs we’re delivering, in order to best serve the public and use those tax dollars in the most efficient way, we restructured a little bit.”

     Molly Schmitt, county youth program coordinator, is seeing her duties shift to more school program delivery, camps, special interest opportunities and community outreach.

     “I was already transitioning to more school programs,” Schmitt said. “I’ve been trained in that, so that was pretty natural.”

     Devan Cress has also seen a change, moving from office assistant to the role of 4-H program assistant. She will be the go-to person for general 4-H and club questions, while assisting in youth programming.

     “I’ll be running the 4-H online, and the fair entry (system) that we’re going to be implementing this year,” Cress said. “A lot of my stuff will be the livestock part of the (Great Jones County) Fair, running the shows and getting the shows going, and making sure weigh-ins run smoothly.”

     The changes took effect Nov. 4.

     “The youth area is the biggest area of growth from a programming standpoint. So what we truly needed, in order to balance workloads and still maintain a budget, was put two people into the 4-H and youth world.

     “So Molly is going to be more of a community and program and delivery presence, and Devin is going to be the back end 4-H members contact.”

     The 4-H youth program already was involved with area schools, but this will expand as well, Fischer said.

     “The goal is to get a bigger presence in schools, to start some after school programs, and to do some ag-in-the-classroom types of programs,” Fischer said.

     Schmitt added: “This spring we have a lot of stuff on the docket. A lot of schools have already approached us.”

     Among the upcoming programs are a nine-week Ricochet program that is a leadership initiative, and a Switch program that involves healthy lifestyles.

     Winter agricultural classes are other examples.

     “We went from having maybe one or two, to 10 different courses this year between December and March,” Fischer said.

     She added that having a trained and able staff has contributed to the growth.

     “We talked about what our goals were and what we wanted overall, and then tried to see what we had with our current staff to fulfill those,” Fischer said.

     “It’s just staff being very diligent and coming up with ideas and programs that we can offer. We’ve been trained in quite a few programs that we can deliver now, so that we don’t need specialists from Ames to do it. So that gives us flexibility.

     “And just hearing the needs of the community and what they would like, has helped us figure out and pinpoint those programs that we need to deliver too.”

     The Extension office also benefits from two grants it is implementing.

     The first is a $12,000 technology grant.

     “We spent a lot of funds on the equipment we requested, like new laptops, a virtual reality kit, different STEM curriculum and materials we can use for youth programming,” Schmitt said.

     One part of that is forming a tech teaching team.

     “We’re working on pulling together a group of high school students who would get trained in basic computer competencies, and then go out and deliver that to seniors in the community,” Schmitt said.

     The other is an ag innovators grant from Bayer and the national 4-H organization.

     “This year it’s all about watersheds and water quality,” Schmitt said. “We’re still putting together the full curriculum and coming up with all the activities for it.”

     Fischer has been temporarily filling the office assistant position that was held by Cress.

     “I am that for now, but in January we’d like to bring somebody on for 25-30 hours a week to fulfill that role of customer service,” she said.



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