This article is from the Annual Report edition of the Extension Connection newsletter, December 2006.
Listen to Joanie O’Connor, Sioux City Early Head Start director; Janel Lincoln, Fort Dodge YWCA parent education coordinator; and Jim Braden, factory controller and Iowa State University Extension volunteer. They and others relate how ISU Extension training and curricula touch their lives and ripple out in their communities to benefit Iowa families.
Joanie O’Connor needed a nutrition education component when the Sioux City Early Head Start program started in 1998. She thought immediately of Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). “Early Head Start is not center-based; we reach families in their homes,” O’Connor said. “My staff members have social services and child development training, but no extensive nutrition training. EFNEP program assistants are very knowledgeable and have up-to-date curricula. Having them deliver nutrition education during monthly visits serves our families well.”
By working one-on-one with families and in small group settings, EFNEP assistants are helping families grocery shop more wisely, try a variety of nutritious foods and learn how to prepare foods safely. O’Connor and ISU Extension personnel report that families are healthier and gain self-confidence as they complete the nutrition program.
Tina Dice is the EFNEP assistant working with women at the Heart of Iowa treatment center in Cedar Rapids. “It’s rewarding to have them come to class excited to tell me that they are buying whole wheat products,” Dice said. “Our lessons incorporate physical activities and nutrition lessons. Everyone has a task during food preparation. Every week, we see and hear of the progress they are making with their health and nutrition.”
Janel Lincoln needed a class that would prepare her to teach parents. She had the skills to work one-on-one with the young and teen moms that filled one of her classrooms at the Fort Dodge YWCA, but wanted better classroom delivery skills. Partnering with Parents, an ISU Extension program, was the one class offering all aspects of educating parents. “I learned new skills and came away with valuable activities that I use in my classes,” Lincoln said. “What I learned helps me approach my lesson materials more appropriately. Parents in our programs say our group sessions improve their family interactions and strengthen their parenting skills.”
One Iowa pastor with Partnering with Parents training now feels better equipped to handle family issues unrelated to the church or religion. “The program was so comprehensive, that I feel better prepared to respond to the full range of challenges families face today,” she said. “Through participant networking, I have a much better handle on the services that are available to families and how to best access them.”
The ad in the Red Oak paper asked for volunteers willing to prepare income taxes for low-income families for free. Jim Braden answered the ad by calling ISU Extension. He received the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) training and was provided a computer and software necessary to electronically file tax returns.
“Many aren’t aware of the Earned Income and Child tax credits and are amazed at the sizeable refunds they can get when claiming them,” Braden said. “They are so appreciative.”
Extension provides Gail Cervantes with VITA information that she shares with her Upper Des Moines Opportunity clients in Webster City. “This program helps families living in poverty file tax forms they otherwise wouldn’t complete,” Cervantes said. “The tax credit dollars would go unclaimed without this program. With it, money is returned to families and back into the rural communities.”