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Extension reaches many citizens across state

The Alabama County Extension System, the primary outreach organization for the land grant mission of Alabama A&M University and Auburn University, delivers research-based educational programs that enable people to improve their quality of life and economic well-being. In 2018, Alabama Extension reached one in three Alabama residents. That’s more than 1.4 million people.

The land grant system began in 1862 with the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act. This law gave states public lands provided the lands be sold or used for profit and the proceeds used to establish one college—hence, land grant colleges—that would teach agriculture and the mechanical arts.  The land grant mission is the foundation of extension. The mission assigned to land grant universities by the federal government is to teach, conduct research, and provide service to communities. 

Here in Washington County, the Extension Office, at Frank Turner Hall Building, 25 Court St. in Chatom, specializes in many fields, including farm and agribusiness, human science, forestry, fisheries, food safety, and more. Within each office, there’s a county coordinator, administrative associate, 4-H regional extension associate, regional extension agent, and SNAP educator. They can be reached at (251) 847-2295.

Regional extension agents are not exclusive to their county. They float around to other surrounding counties as well. There are seven sets in the state, and these regional extension agents help throughout their area. Regional extension agents serve as specialists at the county level. One example of a regional extension agent would be a homegrown agent who can help you with questions related to everything from fertilizer to forestry.  All advice is research-based.

These agents also host group programming and comprehensive education targeted to specific interests.  For example, the Washington County office offered a program called “Don’t get caught in a PICKLE this canning season” on June 16. 

Group programming isn’t just targeted toward agriculture. The extension office also offers parenting classes and workshops promoting healthy habits such as their Diabetes Empowerment Education program.  Another priority for the extension office is workforce development. They provide education on life skills, money management, and more.  Workforce development programs include “Job Search Preparation”, “Skills to Pay the Bills”, “Job Success” and a “Small Business Workshop”.

Networking with the community is important for their grassroots process. Catering to the needs of a community looks different at each office since no two counties are the same. County officials often give feedback to the extension office, and they conduct surveys to be consistently improving. In Washington County, they are currently developing a new strategic plan to provide a roadmap for the next few years.

Headshot of Robin Paul

Robin Paul, the Extension coordinator in Washington County, said her priority is connecting with citizens to see how to best serve them. “We could do Zoom programming every day, but people don’t want to send a picture. They want you to come to see it,” Paul said.

Paul, an Auburn University alumnus, jumped at the opportunity to work with her university’s extension. In her current role for more than two years, she said a goal was meeting with the people of Washington County.  Adjusting to a new role right as COVID began was difficult, but she approached it by listening to local citizens. 

“I would hope that people think of me as a listener rather than a speaker,” Paul said. As a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Paul said she believes you cannot serve people without knowing them well first. She added, “I don’t know everything, so I am always eager to ask questions and learn.” 

The extension office partners with groups all over the county such as the Farmer’s Federation and Cattleman’s Association. A frequent partner of theirs is the Washington County Public Library. Librarian Jessica Ross said, “From organizing our local farmer’s market to coordinating the census promotional campaign for our county, Robin is a hands-on leader in our community. She has a heart for service and community betterment, and it shows in everything she does to make Washington County a better place to live and work.”


Tags: Washington County