A new person in the director’s chair is not the only change at the University of Illinois Extension office in Fayette County.
At an open house held last week to introduce Carl Baker as the new Unit 21 director, Baker talked about plans to improve the services offered to residents of Fayette County from that office.
Baker took over as the Unit 21 director, for the counties of Fayette, Effingham, Clay and Jasper, on Nov. 3, following the retirement of Rachelle Hollinshead.
Baker comes to Extension from the Red Cross, after serving as the executive director for the Decatur area for the past six years.
Prior to that, he was the Red Cross director of government and external relations for Illinois and Missouri.
He joined the Red Cross after 12 years as the director of government and regional medical programs for the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
Baker is a native of Oak Lawn, a southwest suburb of Chicago, but has lived in Central Illinois for 28 years. He now lives in Bethany.
He said that what attracted him to the Extension director position was the impact he could have in providing opportunities for youth.
“I’ve always had a fascination with doing things with kids,” he said, noting that he has served as the athletic director for a small youth baseball program and taught swimming.
“I saw this as a good way to get into not just the youth programs, which is the main focus, but also the other programs that the university offers,” Baker said.
Among the youth whom Baker will be serving as director is his daughter, who is currently in 4-H.
Baker will be based in Effingham, and at this time, he has no set schedule for the four offices in Unit 21. “That will be coming down the road,” he said.
And while Baker will not be in the Fayette County office, five days a week, other staff members will. Baker said that within the near future, the staffing of the office in Vandalia will be increased.
The staffing of the local office was cut back to Wednesday through Friday, with local employees working out of the Effingham office on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Soon, office support assistant Debbie Boley and SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education employee Jo Stine will be in the Vandalia office from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., he said.
Tabitha Welch, the Extension educator for 4-H and youth development for Unit 21, will continue to be in the Fayette County office two days a week.
“A lot of changes are coming,” Baker said. Those include the hiring of a new part-time employee in the local office, an educational program coordinator.
That new employee, Baker said, will work on enhancing programs for local youths.
“If the program continues to grow like we would like to see it grow, the incentive is to increase that job closer to a full-time position,” he said.
In the short time that he has been with Extension, Baker has been impressed with what he has seen.
“The staff is great – I couldn’t have asked for a better staff,” he said.
“And the people (in Unit 21) have been very receptive to me, and they like some of the ideas we have going forward.
“One of the questions that I have asked as I have meet with boards and committees is, ‘Where were we, were are we now and where are we going?’
“That’s kind of a big push – we want to see the programs grow,” Baker said.
He’s excited about meeting and hearing from people in the four-county region.
“We want to hear what else the community wants, and if it’s something that we can do or provide, we want to see what we can do to make sure of those happen,” Baker said.
“We’re seeing some growth (in Extension),” he said. “Extension has been around for 100 years, and we want to show the people the commitment we have to the communities that we serve, let them know that we are going to be here and grow our programs.”