County Purdue Extension team gives annual community report

This past year, 709 youth were members of 31 traditional 4-H clubs spread across Jackson County.

Another 132 youth were involved in Mini 4-H, while there were 2,415 entries from 4-H’ers at the Jackson County Fair in 2022.

The activities of 4-H youth are just one part of what Purdue Extension Jackson County brings to the table in the way of providing services to the county each year.

During a luncheon Wednesday at the Community Foundation of Jackson County in Seymour, Purdue Extension staff members talked about their work this past year with those youth, farmers, gardeners and others in the county to a group of 30 or so people.

“Our office is very busy,” said Heather VonDielingen, who is head of youth development.

“Sometimes, we see each other coming and going to this program and that program,” she said. “We are just going to share some of our big highlights with you this past year.”

VonDielingen said the 4-H program along with educational programming for youth that are not necessarily involved in 4-H continues to grow. A total of 807 youth, including the 709 in 4-H clubs, participated in educational programming.

One example of the programming that doesn’t always involve those in 4-H is career and college readiness programs conducted with Jobs for America’s Graduates students at Seymour and Brownstown Central high schools, she said.

“Those students are providing them with six hours of education credit and are figured in with 4-H participation numbers,” VonDielingen said.

Another 144 adults make the 4-H program possible, she said.

VonDielingen also discussed the five SPARK Clubs designed to give youth a hands-on, in-depth learning experience about a single topic, such as space, local foods and local government.

“It’s kind of meant to spark an interest in the 4-H program,” VonDielingen said.

She also discussed the Juntos 4-H program for Latino youth.

“We have 39 families who have gone through this program, and some of them are still with us now,” VonDielingen said. “Some started with us when they were in eighth grade and are now sophomores or juniors.”

She said the program is all about helping Latino students and their parents gain the resources they need to navigate the educational system in the U.S. and give the students the resources they need to graduate high school and obtain higher education.

Richard Beckort, who is in charge of agricultural and natural resources programming for the extension office, said his activities in 2022 included a Fun with Nature Camp attended by more than 25 children, an Explore the Great Outdoors program presented to 333 third-graders and a small woodlot program.

The Fun with Nature Camp is going to be offered again this year.

“So if you have some young kids who like to get outside, this is a two-day camp that we do with a program from Purdue called Nature of Teaching,” Beckort said.

For information, call the extension office at 812-358-6101.

He said he also presented a series of programs this past year about invasive species, another about farm stress and five pesticide applicator re-certification programs for farmers.

“A lot of programming is aimed at the ag community,” Beckort said.

He also discussed a two-week assignment that took him to Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation near Venezuela, where he worked with two communities of students on expanding their community garden projects.

Molly Marshall, who is in charge of health and human sciences programming, followed Beckort and said her work basically covers anything related to food, family, money and health.

She said some of her focus in the last few years has been on mental health.

Marshall said in July 2022, the government launched 988, a suicide and crisis lifeline.

“It’s kind of like 911,” she said. “Mental health has been on our radar. We know there are struggles with mental health. The pandemic really brought it to light. Now, it’s a really big focus, not only in our community but nationwide, so just try to think about ways we can work together and really address the issues we are seeking locally.”

Program Assistant Brooklynn Rennekamp also gave a report about 10 educational year-round workshops for 4-H members this past year.

She also reported that about 200 people participated in interactive nights at the 4-H building during the 2022 fair. Topics covered included agriculture education, 3-D printing and mental health. There also was an organ petting zoo.