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Extension provides a century of service

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‘To me, we’re all about teaching people to make their lives better.’

By Zac Oakes

 

The Taylor County Cooperative Extension Office is celebrating 100 years of service to the community this year. 

For the past century, the Extension Office has provided the citizens of Taylor County with a variety of services, information, and programming aimed at bettering the lives of local citizens. 

The Taylor County Extension Office is operated through the University of Kentucky as one of the state’s land-grant colleges. 

The beginnings of extension services can be traced back to 1914 with the Smith-Lever Act, with the goal of taking practical, unbiased, and research-based information from land-grant colleges (particularly the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University). 

“If you think about 1918, they didn’t have a lot of different ways to access information,” Audrey Myers, extension agent for family and consumer sciences said. “So this was the place where you would go and learn how to grow these crops, learn how to can, or learn how to do these basic life skills.” 

The first Taylor County Extension Office was established in 1918. It was located on Main Street in the old Bank of Campbellsville with the first Taylor County extension agent, J.L. Miller.

From there, the extension office later moved to the bottom floor back offices of the Atlas Building, and then later to the basement of the courthouse annex. In 1988, the office moved to the Southern States regional office. Finally, in 2000, the extension office moved to its current home, a 15,500 square foot facility on South Columbia Avenue across from Amazon. 

The building also added a conference center that is used for approximately 700 meetings over the course of a year with more than 11,000 people in attendance. From the Taylor County Cattleman’s Association to the Extension Homemakers to gardening clubs and everything in between, these groups use that space for regular weekly, monthly, and annual meetings.

In addition to meetings, blood drives and other events are held in the conference center, as well as such events as chamber of commerce luncheons. 

The Extension Office is governed by an Extension District Board, which consists of six members plus the county judge-executive. The first district board, established in 1984, consisted of Gloria Deener, Tommy Noe, Calvin Chaney, Dr. Joe Turpin, Gwynette Sullivan, and Johnnie Price. 

The Extension District Board consists of representatives from each area, and members make decisions regarding fiscal matters, including the tax rate, as the Extension Service is a taxing district for the county. 

The Extension Office became a taxing district in 1984 through the work of the above-mentioned board members and the agents at the time. Before that, representatives had to go before the fiscal court to ask for funding to operate extension services.

Today, the extension office hasn’t lost sight of what its original mission was a century ago. 

The staff today includes Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent Pat Hardesty, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Audrey Myers, 4-H Youth Development Agent Amanda Sublett, and Horticulture Agent Kara Back, as well as several assistants, staff members, and volunteers. 

The extension office relies heavily on volunteers to offer the services that are provided. More than 700 volunteers help plan, implement, and evaluate more than 700 educational meetings/activities each year. 

“We have such a great outreach because of our tremendous volunteers,” Sublett said. 

Among these include 4-H camp and clubs, afterschool programs, Extension Homemakers, Cloverbuds, farm and home visits, soil testing, field days, food and nutrition programs, and much more.

Among the most popular programs that the Extension Office is involved with today are the Cattleman’s Association and Homemakers, as well as the Heifer Chain because it’s not something that every county does. 

“It’s a great program that is really popular on the 4-H side of things,” 4-H and Youth Development Agent Amanda Sublett said. “That’s one of the great things about extension. We have the ability to offer programs that will have a unique interest to our county… It’s a program that provides a lot of challenges, but it teaches kids a lot, too.”

Fantastic Fridays, an afterschool program, is also very popular, according to Sublett.

One of the most notable aspects of programs offered through the extension office is that most programming is free, but if it isn’t, the cost is minimal, which allows for a greater number of participants.

“A lot of times, people will come in and say, ‘What do I owe you?’ but this is tax money at work,” Sublett said. “We’re providing these services to people.”

Sublett said she has often heard extension services referred to as “the best kept secret” but she said she isn’t fond of that phrase. 

“We want people to know what we do,” Sublett said. “I think extension is very important and life-changing. I’m a product of extension and I realize the kind of impact that it can make.” 

For instance, Homemakers. It’s a club that Myers said many people are not fully aware of the range of programming that takes place. From parenting classes to money management to minimalizing or downsizing and food/nutrition information, the club emphasizes learning a variety of life skills.

“You’re learning these life skills and you’re learning from other people,” Myers said. “It’s really a good opportunity to learn from other people that may know how to do something you don’t know how to do… It really works for a wide range of ages.”

The extension agents also go into the local schools and read to students and speak to them about nutrition and healthy foods.

Among some other programs offered include community and economic development. This includes such programming as active shooter training, estate planning, and other programs that can be beneficial to government leaders, business leaders, and other community members.

“A lot of people, when they think of extension, they think it’s all agriculture,” Myers said. “But we have much more to offer than agriculture. That’s a big component and it’s very important, but there is a lot more to extension than just that. We provide a whole other range of services.”

“To me, we’re all about teaching people to make their lives better,” Sublett added. “If you had to sum up what extension does, we are all about research-based education and ways to educate people to help them make their lives better. To me, that is what extension is. We want to help people to help themselves, and we do that a lot of different ways.”

The Taylor County Extension Office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They can be reached at 270-465-4511. The extension office website is available at https://taylor.ca.uky.edu/