Purdue Extension looks back at 2021

The mission of Purdue Extension is to bring the research happening at the university level and use it to meet the needs of Hoosiers across the state.

On Tuesday, officials with Purdue Extension Jackson County talked about the effort to make that happen here this past year.

“We want to basically transform lives and improve them,” said Heather VonDielingen, the county’s 4-H youth development educator.

VonDielingen, speaking during the agency’s community report for 2021 at Premier Companies headquarters in Seymour, said that work could not happen without the support of many community partners.

About 40 people attended the program and luncheon, where several speakers talked about their involvement with the county extension effort and shared highlights from 2021.

The guest speaker was 18-year-old Hannah Kerkhof, the current Jackson County 4-H Junior Leaders president.

The Trinity Lutheran High School senior said she has lived on the family farm in Seymour her entire life, and naturally, it has become a huge part of who she is.

A member of the Lucky Stars 4-H Club, Kerkhof said she has been in 4-H for 10 years, and she’s sad it’s her last year.

“There are 25 million 4-H alumni across the United States, and that’s an extremely high number,” she said. “Think about your favorite 4-H project you made and entered at the fair, then think about the skills that taught you and how you’re using those life skills today.”

Kerkhof, who also serves as a youth representative on the Jackson County 4-H Council, also talked about her favorite fair project from 2021.

“It was a gray beverage/snack cart, and it was special to me because it was built from the island that was in my grandmother’s kitchen,” she said. “It was like a piece of her, so those projects have individual importance to all of us, and everyone’s 4-H experience is unique.”

Kerkhof said the main three things she has learned from 4-H are confidence, leadership and responsibility.

“If it wasn’t for 4-H, I wouldn’t be the Hannah Kerkhof you see standing before you today, and I wouldn’t have further developed my love for agriculture, which is sending me to Purdue University in the fall,” she said. “My current major has been declared as agricultural communication, but the likelihood of me changing that is pretty high.”

Kerkhof said that’s OK because 4-H has taught her that changing her mind is all right as long as she is doing what her heart loves.

VonDielingen reported there were 755 youth participants in 4-H educational programs and 694 youth enrolled in 4-H clubs in 2021, which was pretty good because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“There were 143 adult 4-H volunteers during that time, and we could not reach the youth and do what we do without volunteers,” she said. “They all go through a screening process and do some training, so we know we have the best role models working with our kids.”

Last year, there were 31 4-H clubs across Jackson County.

“We’re spread out all over the county to make it convenient for our kids to go to a 4-H club meeting,” VonDielingen said. “There are also two Spark Clubs, which are short-term 4-H experiences, and two after-school 4-H clubs.”

She said the federally funded Juntos 4-H program for Latino youth pays for two adult bilingual staff members.

“There are four components to Juntos, and first, we bring the families through a series of workshops in the fall and they are taught about the educational system in the U.S.,” she said. “The second component is an after-school 4-H club.”

The third component is success coaching so the kids can set goals for their academic success, and the fourth is a summer academy experience.

“We will have a bus going from Jackson County to Purdue University so the kids can see the campus, stay in a dorm room and then come back and share that knowledge with their friends,” VonDielingen said.

Richard Beckort, agriculture and natural resources educator, said he focuses on ag and production agriculture, and he also does a lot with home lawn and garden and commercial vegetable production.

“Last year, I presented eight home horticulture webinars via Zoom and presented three programs to groups in Jackson County,” he said. “I’m kind of Zoomed out, and I enjoy standing up here today and seeing faces.”

Beckort also conducted a Fun with Nature camp for more than 50 day care children, recorded a wetlands video used for a virtual field trip for Jackson County third-graders and made several presentations related to production agriculture.

“I love giving back and doing local programs on home horticulture things and working with homeowners and helping people one-on-one. That’s what I enjoy,” he said.

Molly Marshall, health and human sciences educator, said 2021 was a great year for her part of the county program.

She handles anything pertaining to food, family, money or health and continues to work with community partners to make the county a healthy place to live, work and play so everyone has access to local resources.

“During the program year, we were excited to work with many local community partners and Indiana University School of Public Health and the IU Center for Rural Engagement,” Marshall said. “Together, we developed the 2021 Jackson County Community Health Improvement Plan.”

Last year was the first full year serving Jackson County for Katelyn Kutemeier, community wellness coordinator and nutrition educator. She said she spent a lot of 2021 meeting new community members and connecting with a variety of organizations.

“I primarily work with community partners to implement policies, systems and environmental changes that relate to the five Nutrition Education Program focus areas,” Kutemeier said. “Those are physical activity, nutrition, food safety, food insecurity and food resource management.”

That program serves low-income audiences, from third grade to adults.

Brooklynn Rennekamp, program assistant and Mighty Minis 4-H club leader, said since 2020, the Mighty Minis has been inactive, but in 2022, hands-on activities will be reintroduced for 4-H members in grades K-12.

VonDielingen and the rest of the extension staff also surprised two of their own, Beckort, who is celebrating 35 years as an agent or educator for Purdue Extension Cooperative Service, and Madge Warren, extension office manager, who celebrated 25 years in February.

Beckort and Warren were presented with a cake, and each received a bouquet of gift cards.

Purdue Extension Jackson County team 

Richard Beckort Agriculture and natural resources

Molly Marshall Health and human sciences

Heather VonDielingen 4-H youth development

Madge Warren Office manager

Lenora Mathena Secretary

Brooklynn Rennekamp Program assistant

Maddie Underwood Nutrition education program adviser

Katelyn Kutemeier Community wellness coordinator

The extension office is located at the Jackson County Courthouse, 111 S. Main St., Suite 10, Brownstown.

Contact the office by calling 812-358-6101.