MSU Extension Service helping lives in Winston County

From press and staff reports

The Winston County Extension office recently hosted a yearly update to its board and the Winston County Board of Supervisors and other elected officials on December 3..

The Extension Service All land grant colleges and universities have three basic roles and they are teaching, research and Extension. “Extension” simply means to “reach out” or to take the university teaching and research to the people throughout the state and counties to solve public needs and concerns.

When Congress created the Extension System nearly a century ago to address the rural agricultural issues, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived on rural farms and 30 percent of the work force was engaged in farming. Extension’s role with rural America helped make possible the American Agricultural Revolution, which dramatically increased farm production. That increase in productivity allowed fewer farmers to produce more food.

Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living and only 17 percent of Americans live in rural areas. Yet, the need for the Extension Service is as great as ever and plays an important role in the American life throughout the rural, urban and suburban areas. Extension serves farmers in growing crops, homeowners plan and manage their homes and children learn skills to become the leaders of tomorrow. Extension today addresses the issues that people face on a daily basis.

“It is hard to put numbers on the lives changed,” said Winston County Extension Director Mike Skipper about the impact of the Extension office.

The Winston County Extension Service provides educational information and support in a number of different areas: • Agriculture – Research and educational programs help individuals learn new ways to increase income from alternative enterprises, improve marketing strategies, and enhance improvements through resource management, pest control, soil testing, livestock production practices and marketing, just to name a few. • Natural Resources – Teaching landowners and homeowners on how to use natural resources wisely and to protect the environment through educational programs on timber management, composting, water quality, recycling, and wildlife and farm pond management. • 4-H Youth Development – Cultivates important life skills in youth that builds character and assists them in making appropriate life and career choices. Youth are involved through hands on projects and activities. • Family and Consumer Science – Helping to make families more resilient and healthy by teaching nutrition, food preparation skills, positive childcare, family communication, financial management and health care strategies. • Leadership Development – Teaching and training volunteers to deliver programs in gardening, health and safety, family and consumer issues, and 4-H youth development and to serve in leadership roles in the community. • Community Economic Development – Helping local governments investigate and create visible options for economics and community development.

Regardless of the program and needs, Extension is in the position of meeting all needs and concerns at the local level.

The Staff The staff of the Winston County Extension office aims to improve the lives of each person in their service area through programs and other opportunities.

• Dr. Rita Tanksley is the Child and Family Development Area Agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Winston County. Rita serves ten counties in Northeast Mississippi but the majority of her programming is conducted here in Winston County due to the large number of requests she receives.

A native of Mississippi, Rita received a doctorate degree in Family and Consumer Science Education with an emphasis in Child and Family from Florida State University. Prior to joining the MSU Extension Service, Rita was a Professor and Assistant Dean at Pensacola Christian College in Pensacola, Florida.

One of the major projects that Rita worked on this year was “Turning the Tide on Poverty”. Along with other members of The Winston County Partners for Community Living, citizens across Winston County joined together to form Action Teams to bring about positive changes in our community. Rita is working with one of the Action Teams to promote EXCEL BY 5 in Winston County. EXCEL BY 5 is an innovative program that is designed to encourage and assist communities to become actively involved in supporting their young children. Rita encourages all citizens to get involved in EXCEL BY 5.

On behalf of the Extension Office and as a member of The Coalition for a Healthy Winston County, Rita provides educational programs for Get Healthy Winston County, sets up displays at various Health Fairs, does Cooking Demonstrations, conducts programs on the new “My Plate” and the importance of eating right and exercising to prevent diabetes, and assists at the newly formed Winston County Famers Market.

Once a month during the school year, Rita offers Child Care Training classes at the Extension Office to help Child Care Providers that work at Child Care Centers and Head Start obtain the hours required to maintain their license. Rita works with the Resource and Referral Network at Mississippi State University to provide quality programs to enhance the teaching skills of the Child Care Providers.

Rita also teams with Karen Benson, Area Agent/Neshoba County, to provide programs for foster/resource parents throughout Mississippi. These programs are conducted via “Distance Education” which is provided in all Extension Offices in our state. These parenting programs allow foster/resource parents to receive recertification hours.

Rita enjoys working with the other agents in her office to provide a variety of programs and newsletters. She especially enjoys helping the 4-H agent, Sandra Jackson, work with the youth in Winston County.

Rita can provide quality programming in the areas of child development, parenting, foster parenting, teen relationships, marriage, survival skills for healthy families, stress management, character training, babysitting, physical fun, canning and food preservation, and family life education. As your County Agent, Rita will be available to assist you in any programming and educational needs you might have concerning the field of child and family.

• Nancy Bearden, Office Associate for the Winston County Extension Office, has served for 52 years with the Mississippi State Cooperative Extension Service in Winston County.

In her time, the office has moved once from the basement of the Winston County Courthouse to its present location at 460 Vance Street.

“I have seen many changes and many things repeat themselves. We have seen County Agent, Home Economist and Secretaries titles change to County Director, Area Agent and Office Associate,” said Bearden.

She explained, “As Office Associate, I greet all clients who come into our office for information in Agriculture, 4-H, Food & Nutrition, Food Preservation, Horticulture, Child Development, Health, Diabetes, Parenting, Forestry, Beef Cattle, Winston County Self Help, Master Gardeners, Restricted Pesticides, Soil Testing and numerous other requests.”

Bearden also takes phone calls and recording them for each Agent, reports, filing and keeping office supplies ordered is an ongoing duty of an Office Associate.

She along with the other staff assist with ServSafe, Pesticide, Child Care, Parenting and Master Gardening Trainings as needed. Forestry, Cattlemen, WCSH Meetings and 4-H Activities also require the staff’s assistance.

The Breast Cancer Luncheon is one of the big events that the extension service helps with each year to encourage individuals to get their annual mammograms.

“So if we can be of service to you in any of these areas, please call us at 662-773-3091, “ said Bearden. “I have and continue to enjoy my time with Extension and the many friends I have made through the years.”

• Sharon Kennedy also serves as an as Office Associate and has fulfilled that role for 23 years.

When she first started in February 1989, she started on a part-time basis with hours from 8:00 – noon each day.

“This was wonderful for me at that time because I had two little girls at home, ages 7 and 5. I was very blessed to be able to stay home with my girls after school every day. Not every job will give you that opportunity,” said Kennedy.

After her two daughters were in high school, an opening became available to work part time in the Choctaw County Extension. She then became full time by working 2 days in Choctaw County and 2 days in Winston County, alternating every Friday.

“This was also a blessing to me because I was sending my oldest off to college at Mississippi State University and we could use the extra money,” said Kennedy. Currently she works 4 days in Winston County and 1 day in Choctaw County.

Her job duties at the Extension Service include many varied things. She helps handle incoming calls to assist our clientele, assist clientele who come to our office with many different needs, type sign- in sheets for meetings, prepare and send soil samples for clients, handle filing needs, send news articles to the Winston County Journal and Winston Web News, send news announcements to Magic 107 Radio, order office supplies as needed, type newsletters for Senior Smiles (the Senior Citizen newsletter), Quick Tips for Busy Families newsletter, Extension News, Horticulture Update, Fishing Rodeo Flyers, Fundraiser Flyers, and fold, stuff and mail these flyers and newsletters and just help with any needs that may arise during the day. She also does travel reports for the agents each month and assist with other reports as needed.

She also assists and helps with 4-H by enrolling members and volunteers, enter new clubs, Shooting Sports, Club Congress, 4-H Horse Show, Project Achievement Day, and preparing the year end 4-H enrollment report. Other things the extension associates do, though not on a daily basis, are assisting with inventory of theoffice equipment, Child Care Trainings, ServSafe Trainings, Tummy Safe Trainings, Master Gardener Trainings, Cattlemen’s Association Meetings, Pesticide Applicator Trainings, Forestry Meetings, Senior Citizens Meetings, and the Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon (BATTLE) and 4-H Fundraisers. The service also host Quick Bites, an interactive video program held each Thursday when available from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. on different topics each week. This is open to the public and is free of charge. They also prepare the Civil Rights Report every year.

“We all get together and help cook and prepare meals for most of our meetings. Yes, we even cook and clean at the Extension Office!! No job is too big or too small around here!,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy is also currently the treasurer of our NE District Office Secretarial Association. She also currently on the Board for the Coalition for a Healthy Winston County grant and assist with all clerical duties as needed. She also working with Turning the Tide on Poverty, another grant sponsored by Mississippi State University.

“As I have said before, there are so many different areas of involvement in Extension. Nobody here really has a certain job description. We all join together and help each other with what needs to be done to make our office run smoothly. I am sure that I have left out lots of things, but I tried to list as much as possible as to what we do in Extension and the things we offer,” said Kennedy.

She added, “I love my job and it is a joy and pleasure to help our clients with their needs. It warms my heart to see a smile on their face when their information has been found for them. Sometimes a client will just want to sit and visit and talk. No matter how busy things may be, I always love to sit and listen to what they have to say. Many times I learn from them! I am very blessed to be employed with this great organization and to work with the greatest staff ever!”

In her personal time, she enjoys spending time with my husband Bobby Kennedy, her two daughters, Sara (Fred) and Mary Margaret (Carl), and her wonderful grandson Jackson.

“Who is the light of my life!,” said Kenndey.

She attends First Presbyterian Church and am an active member of the Pilot Club of Louisville and a Life member of Junior Auxiliary of Louisville.

“I am blessed and thankful for my wonderful family and for my job that has been a joy and blessing to me these 23 years,” said Kennedy.

• Sandra F. Jackson serves as the Extension Program Associate for the 4-H/ Youth. The 4-H Youth program strives to improve the quality of life for Mississippi youth by developing youth potential and by providing “hands-on” (experiential) educational programs. Program priorities identified include leadership development, life skills training, developing positive self-esteem, and empowering volunteers. Programs are delivered through local county Extension offices to volunteer leaders. Mississippi 4-H has about 80,000 youths ages 5-18, and Winstgon County’s programs include livestock, shooting sports, home economics, sports and more.

• Mike Skipper, Extension County Director, keeps all the programs and office, reports and meetings running smoothly. He is responsible mainly for four administrative roles; personnel management, program administration, financial management and office management.

For more information on the programs offered please contact 662-773-3091 or Email: