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February 4, 2013

Purdue Extension extends University's expertise to the public

Jill Overton

Jill Overton, food service director for Franklin Community Schools, can't overstate the case for food safety with children. She sends cafeteria workers to Indiana food-handler certification workshops offered by Purdue Extension in Johnson County. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)
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This is Purdue Extension Week in Purdue Today -- time set aside each day to help the Purdue community better understand the University's role in providing outreach services to the public through the nationwide Extension system.

What exactly is Extension?

Formally called the Cooperative Extension Service, Extension is one of the nation's largest providers of research-based information and education. It is a network of colleges, land-grant universities such as Purdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture serving communities and counties across America. It is funded by federal, state and local governments.

Purdue Extension has faculty and staff specialists in three colleges -- Agriculture, Health and Human Sciences and Veterinary Medicine. Program areas focus on agriculture and natural resources, health and human sciences, economic and community development and the 4-H youth program. Services are designed to meet the needs of Indiana residents -- needs that Purdue Extension staff know firsthand because its educators and volunteers live and work in all of Indiana's 92 counties.

"We have a wide variety of services and programs throughout the state that offer practical solutions to critical local issues," says Jim Mintert, interim director of Purdue Extension.

He noted that Purdue Extension has a special website featuring stories of people across Indiana who have benefited from Extension services. Called "Making a Difference," the site is at  www3.ag.purdue.edu/extension/makingadifference/Pages/default.aspx.

"On that website you will see real-life examples showing just how essential Purdue Extension is to the people of Indiana," he says. "These examples are testimony to Extension's mission of transforming lives and livelihoods. We do that every day." 

Stories include that of Jill Overton, food service director for Franklin Community Schools in Johnson County. For Overton, food-handling training that Extension provides helps the cafeteria staff ensure that the 4,000 meals it prepares each day are safe for the children. A registered dietitian, she sends cafeteria workers to certification workshops offered by the Purdue Extension office in Johnson County.

 "We're feeding a lot of kids," Overton says. "We do everything we can to avoid a foodborne illness outbreak."

Steve Cain, homeland security project director for the Purdue Extension Disaster Education Network, took a lead role in helping to manage the sudden and rapid influx of volunteers and donations that poured into southern Indiana the day after the deadly tornadoes of March 2, 2012. EDEN communications specialist Abby Hostetler also was dispatched to help coordinate volunteer efforts.    

The Rev. Rich Cheek, former chairman of the long-term recovery committee, says the Purdue Extension people recognized not only the basic needs of communities devastated by the tornadoes but also special needs, such as feed for cattle or quick help in erecting new fencing.

"Most folks who came in were not rural and didn't understand the role agriculture plays in the community," Cheek says. Cain and Hostetler knew how to help. "Where there were gaps in the coordinated effort, Purdue Agriculture came through. They came in and made a tremendous impact."

That impact included service by local county Extension educators as a resource for people needing information and assistance along the road to full recovery.

Cain says Purdue Extension's commitment to the communities that needed help to rebuild and repair lives is clear: "Purdue is totally involved in this disaster recovery and will continue to be for a long time."

Writer: Keith Robinson, 49-42722, robins89@purdue.edu