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?