Is there value in being engaged in your community?

When I was hired as an Extension Agent in the early 1990’s, my co-workers and administrators impressed the value and importance of being actively involved in the community where I worked. It was also expected (at that time) that I live in the county where I worked. There were multiple ways, of course, to be involved in the community. These included things like serving on local committees, church membership, attending school functions, fairs and festivals, and being a member of civic clubs. Because of the relational nature of Extension work, it was seen as important to get connected to people and to show them that you were committed to the county and that you were not going anywhere else anytime soon.

Through building connections and networking in their community, Extension Agents begin to build trust and a reputation for caring about the community and the well-being of the citizens there. Being the “County Agent” becomes more than a job or profession. It becomes an identity and expresses who you are and what you represent. Many people have identified this as having the “Extension Gene.”

Over the years, I continued to hear about the value of community involvement. In counties and cities where there has been frequent Agent turnover, questions arose from stakeholders and volunteers such as “should I invest my time and resources to helping this person and program, if they are not committed to me and this community?” A 2012 article in forbes.com stated that “ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years.” It also stated that “job-hopping can speed career advancement…and also lead to greater job fulfillment.”

So, what does this mean for someone who has chosen being an Extension Agent for a career? What does it mean for the credibility and sustainability of Extension programs in a community? Does it matter that an Extension Agent is involved in the community that they work in? Is program success connected to community involvement?

What do you think?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2012/08/14/job-hopping-is-the-new-normal-for-millennials-three-ways-to-prevent-a-human-resource-nightmare/

Mike Martin

10 thoughts on “Is there value in being engaged in your community?

  1. Andy Overbay

    Let me begin with the acknowledgement that I have never lived in the counties where I have been housed. That said, if an agent isn’t committed to serving “their county” they won’t be successful and their work won’t be very fulfilling.
    I also acknowledge that much academic study, generational trends appear to “peg” people behaviorally. My personal observation is “so what?”
    We hire individuals, individuals who are outliers to trends and are successful (or not) because they find personal (very personal) connections and fulfillment in their role.
    If one considers the uproar in the aftermath of past restructuring efforts, where did the champions of Extension arise? Answer: From counties and county citizens with agents who are woven into the fabric of their communities.
    Without that buy in, now and in the future, Extension deminishes if not perishes. The question then is not if community connection are necessary but why agents who balk at buying in, and by default place colleagues at risk, are tolerated?

    Reply
    1. Mike Martin

      Andy,

      Good perspectives. Understanding that some agents serve multiple counties is important. Being active in all communities served can be a tall order. Maybe finding where you can be involved in at least some meaningful way is the take away point.

      Thanks,
      Mike

      Reply
  2. Bonnie Tillotson

    Being the “county agent” in a county where most of the previous agents have stayed until retirement, you bet you become involved in the community. Also, let’s not forget who also butters our bread. Our stakeholders would like to see return on their investment. How can you care about the folks in your programs if you are not involved?

    Reply
    1. Mike Martin

      Bonnie,

      Good thoughts. It was Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. May be some good food for thought when it comes to Extension work.

      Thanks,
      Mike

      Reply
  3. Chris Lichty

    I truly credit my 4-H program successes as a result of me being vested in the community. From over 100 teen and adult volunteers giving more than 5,000 hours annually of In-Kind services, through the generous donations and grant awards, and through the free use of schools, the administrative building, churches, the fairgrounds and the Lions Club Building, one can see the community in turn has invested in our 4-H program. The community has embraced our 4-H programs as they have proven beneficial to the growth of the youth in Pulaski County and provide leadership opportunities for them that will be invaluable toward future endeavors. We, the community, have helped countless youth of Pulaski County, to realize their full potential, become self-directing, contributing members of the community, and to develop and establish goal setting habits, those that help reach dreams.

    Reply
  4. Jason Fisher

    Mike…I tend to echo your comments regarding being involved in your community. For my first 10 years as a county Agent this was the case for me. Now, serving as a district agent “requires” (at least from serving as county agent) me to get less involved in local “acitivities”, but serve area and state efforts more where I can. Of course, my ties to many local “duties” from the past seem to never subside, and some of that is my own fault carrying out the “missional” efforts we seem to do as Agents. The other fact is that I’ve served in these agent roles while remaining in the same county so with that comes its own challenges. Perhaps the question could be better answered if the expectation to having community involvement was tied to our successes. Thankfully, our administration does not “require” this, nor should they. Putting it bluntly, if agents are hired with doubt that this has already been evidenced, then that’s a selection committee issue in my mind – that is if the topic of community involvement is valued. I would have to say it remains with the Agent’s decision as to whether they can provide an effective program with our without this involvement. For obvious reasons, most of us have to go to the clients and not always expect them to come to us….a suttle reminder in our technology age of change – are we leaving some folks behind in the process while having to adjust? I’ve had to keep this in mind and I bet others have also. So, I believe that if we are truly to remain credible by our clients and stakeholders, and important ingredient is being “in” our community to see some perspectives for ourselves and provide that time tested trust that often separates us from the rest of the field. At least this is what I think brought us through some of the recent budget woes. I have to keep this in mind as we delve even deeper into administrative responsibilities and demands on our time at our desks.

    Reply
  5. Laura Siegle

    To echo what others have said, a good agent won’t need to be told to do this. I’m pretty new relative to some of my peers, but even from my observations thus far, I am pretty sure that anyone who treats this job as a passion and calling will build connections in the community organically–and this will happen whether or not they live in the county. I used to live out of my county and still became involved with local groups and activities before I moved there later on. If anything, it’s easy to commit to too many projects and groups and clubs and you find yourself struggling with work-life balance, another issue altogether.
    You did mention client dissatisfaction with agent turnover. I experienced this a bit–one or two producers made very rude comments about it right to me on the same occasions when I was going to their farms to try to meet them for the first time, but the rest seemed happy just to have an agent.

    Reply
    1. Mike Martin

      Good points Laura. You are absolutely correct that if you are not careful, you can commit to being involved with so many things that you become over committed. You end up doing a lot of things, but not feeling like you do any of them well. In some cases this can lead to a real challenge concerning work-life balance.

      Thanks,
      Mike

      Reply

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