Extension among proposed state cuts

With this year’s Fayette County 4-H Show just around the corner, funding for the program that provides that show is among those in the spotlight during the state’s budget impasse.
University of Illinois Extension is one of the programs included in cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner as he tries to get state legislators to approve a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins next Wednesday.
At the Fayette County Extension Office, “We have a wait-and-see attitude,” said Carl Baker, Unit 21 Extension director for the counties of Fayette, Effingham, Clay and Jasper.
“Right now, it’s business as usual, because it’s a proposed budget,” Baker said.
“We’re going to keep on providing the programs that we offer and the fair (4-H Show) is still going to go on as planned,” he said.
And the program that the office provides, Baker said, are proven to be ones that are wanted and that provide numerous benefits.
A University of Illinois study, he said, showed that Extension has a 2-to-1 return on its funding, with much of its success due in large part to the thousands of volunteers. “That shows that Extension is a very viable program.”
In 4-H alone, which serves about 200,000 Illinois youth each year, there are 13,000 adult volunteers, he said.
“Our volunteers are a huge part of our program,” Baker said. The volunteer contributions have an estimated value of $22.50 per hour. “That’s just a huge amount of money, when you look at the number of volunteers that we have.”
The programs that have traditionally proven to be widely successful include Master Gardener, Master Naturalists and, of course, 4-H.
Fayette County currently has about 200 youths in 10 4-H clubs, Baker said, explaining that those members pick up a lot of lifelong skills.
“I was talking to someone recently about 4-H, and that person said, ‘I thought 4-H was just about livestock,’” Baker said. “It truly is much more than that.
“We have things like robotics clubs, we have members building rockets and we teach kids about the arts, cooking, sewing, photography, woodworking, etc.
“They are getting programs that focus on such things as math, science and engineering, programs that help them decide upon a career and help them to reach that goal.
“The youth are really impacted by the things offered through 4-H, and studies have shown that those who participate in 4-H are four times more likely to give back to their community as adults.
“Our 4-H members pick up a lot of life skills, skills that be very valuable as they grow up to become productive parents and members of society,” Baker said.
“These are youth who will go on to become parents, 4-H leaders, community leaders … and some even go on to become state legislators,” he said.
“We even have a ‘Ready for the Real World’ class that we provide for high school sophomores, where we teach them about such things as personal finances, nutrition and wellness.
“We give them different scenarios, and they get to see how far a dollar goes for adults, things like that,” Baker said. “It’s a real eye-opener for them.”
Baker said that one goal he had when becoming the Unit 21 director was getting Extension out into the community more, and statistics show that the employees, volunteers and users of Extension programs are helping him to achieve that.
Extension keeps track of social media participation, and the unit that includes Fayette, Effingham, Clay and Jasper ranks third in the state, behind Champaign and Cook County. And Baker notes that Unit 21 is close to overtaking Cook County.
“And, we’re the No. 1 rural unit,” Baker said.
In February 2014, the Unit 21 website had 20,000 hits. “This February, it had 86,000 hits,” he said.
“We strive to keep our information fresh and give people what they want,” Baker said.
“At the same time, we are minimizing our expenditures the best we can while providing the best programs that we can,” he said.

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