County Cooperative Extension celebrates community at annual meeting

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    GUILFORD — For many years the Piscataquis County branch of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension has been serving the region through its various programs, resources and partnerships with other area organizations. On the evening of Sept. 7 the Cooperative Extension’s personnel and many accomplishments were recognized during the annual meeting at the Valley Grange.

    “I see this as a kind of celebration, we have withstood some financial stress,” Extension Educator Donna Coffin said at the start of the annual meeting. “We made some changes and I think we have moved forward.”
    Coffin then thanked her fellow staff members, the executive committee and Executive Committee President Walter Boomsma for all their efforts. “to enable us to continue to offer UMaine Cooperative Extension services to the people of Piscataquis County.”
    Boomsma then began his presentation, which he said was titled, “Are you too young to dance?” He explained when he was substitute teaching an elementary class, a speaker from Cooperative Extension came in to speak about nutrition and they had a video which led the students in a dance.
    As the students were getting ready to exercise, one asked Boomsma if he was young enough to dance. “The biggest challenge to teach kids is to make them believe they can do it,” he said. “If you look at the things that have happened the last few years with Extension, I’m not sure I believed.
    “We are doing more with 48 percent less budget than four years ago,” Boomsma said. He shared a letter written by a young pupil to Felicia Dumont of Cooperative Extension, in which the student wrote, “Thank you for coming to our class almost every other month to teach me and my classmates about nutrition. I hope to see you next year or sometime soon. The thing I really like about you is your kindness.”
    “In order to understand how this has happened we have to look at the numbers,” Boomsma said. He said in 2009 the budget for Cooperative Extension — which receives about a fifth of its funding from the county and other over 80 percent from the state — totaled approximately $78,000 with $44,000 being the value of the building on the county’s campus in Dover-Foxcroft and the other $34,000 for operations.
    Boomsma said a significant portion of the funding was lost in 2010, from about $34,000 to $12,500. Since then the monies for operating Cooperative Extension have only increased to just over half of what was available four years ago.
    He said Cooperative Extension weathered the financial difficulties by “restructuring with a focus,” creating a matrix or non-pyramid based approach and understanding and practicing collaboration with other organizations. “Tonight’s event is really an example of this,” Boomsma said, with Cooperative Extension partnering with the Valley Grange and with Penquis for the Sept. 7 meeting. “The secret is to gang up on the problem and not on each other.”
    4-H — a program of Cooperative Extension — member Nathaniel Fanjoy then came forward to talk about how when he was using his metal detector at the beach he found a class ring from Skowhegan High School. Fanjoy was able to locate the ring’s owner, who said her late father had purchased it for her a decade prior.
    When Fanjoy was telling the story he was asked if he sought a reward for finding the lost ring. “Mister, that woman’s smile was my reward,” he replied.
    “4-H has been a big part of these kid’s lives, and that’s the impact,” Boomsma said.
    Maine Cooperative Extension Executive Director Jon Rebar spoke at the annual meeting. “Piscataquis Cooperative Extension is part of the bigger picture,” he said, saying the state program has been in existence for nearly 100 years. He mentioned the many programs of Cooperative Extension, such as those that help farmers and other food producers of all sizes, gardeners, business owners, children and more.
    Before the annual meeting of the Cooperative Extension, a supper was held to benefit Penquis’ Piscataquis Santa program. The meal, a collaboration between Cooperative Extension, Penquis and the Valley Grange, raised over $550. Another supper is scheduled for November, with the Saturday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) being considered for the date of the meal to help fund items for needy children during the holidays.

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