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ArlingtonCooperative Extension continues to persevere through pandemic

Cooperative Extension continues to persevere through pandemic

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When supporters of Virginia Cooperative Extension programs in Arlington and Alexandria gathered “virtually” last December, after years of in-person end-of-the-year get-togethers, they no doubt hoped that the experience would not be repeated in 2021.

But here we are and, owing to pandemic conditions bordering on interminable, organizers thought it best to again stay in the online arena for the annual celebration of the multitude of programs offered to the public.

Going virtual provides “a chance to share with a large number of people,” said Bill Ross, who with Teresa Germann co-chairs the Extension Leadership Council, a group that promotes the Arlington/Alexandria offices.
The gathering was held Dec. 3.

“You gotta love technology,” noted John Thompson, Northern District director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, an initiative that dates back more than a century and is overseen by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.


(Thompson was simultaneously being sincere and ironic – using Zoom indeed allowed attendees to participate from all over the state, but it also brought forth some technical glitches that have become one of the banes of the pandemic era. That gathering persevered regardless.)

Perhaps best known for its sponsorship of the 4-H clubs across the commonwealth, Cooperative Extension provides support and instruction in a variety of topics, from financial literacy to food safety to home improvement.

Virginia Cooperative Extension has offices (“units”) in 107 localities across Virginia – about 80 percent of the commonwealth’s cities and counties – Thompson said. Perhaps not surprisingly, services in urban areas are not always the same as those in more rural areas of the Old Dominion.

Individual units “understand the needs of the communities of which we are part,” he said, striving to offer “tools you can use every day to improve your life.”

Locally, offices are housed in the Fairlington Community Center for Arlington and the Nannie Lee Center for Alexandria.

The 4-H program, like other Cooperative Extension outreach efforts, is tailored to the localities in which it operates. In Arlington and Alexandria, there are a number of programs to connect youth, many of whom living in challenging circumstances, with nature and other opportunities.

“It is being implemented where the students live,” said Master Naturalist volunteer Romana Campos. “It reaches out to diverse populations.”

In Arlington, Cooperative Extension programs reach more than 700 youth a year. And it’s not just 4-H; among the skills being taught are job-hunting.
“It is great to see how the children learn so much,” said Christian Heckel, who attended the forum.

Though a state program, Cooperative Extension agents collaborate with (and in some cases receive funding from) local governments. At the Dec. 3 event, Arlington parks director Jane Rudolph praised Cooperative Extension’s staff.

“They do so much work and they achieve so much,” she said.

The staff, in turn, paid tribute to those who give of their time to provide course instruction and other assistance without compensation.

“I’ve had the chance to work with astounding volunteers – superstars!” said Kirsten Conrad, who for the past 14 years has served as Agriculture Natural Resources Extension Agent for Arlington and Alexandria.

The pandemic era has made Cooperative Extension even more valuable to the community, said Aisha Salazar, an Extension Agent.

Her agency provides “the tools to cope with and adapt to new situations” so that “all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds” benefit from its work, Salazar said.

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