I’ve come to the conclusion that the commitment of Michigan State University Extension to provide programming at the community level in partnership with county government means we will always have the responsibility of conveying to local officials the value of our programs in the lives of their constituents. We’ve worked hard as an organization over the past four years to be more aggressive in documenting the impacts our programs have and to be accountable to officials with the evidence we collect. I remain convinced that our efforts, sometimes with their own challenges, are still what we need to be doing, and I’m extremely proud of how far we have come.
Ultimately, though, no matter how well we measure and document our impacts, the opinions of county residents are the most compelling evidence that what we’re doing matters and is worth the investment. Last night, the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners held a hearing during their meeting to gather input from residents on whether the county should continue to invest in the partnership they have with MSU Extension. A group of at least 54 residents filled a room designed to seat 20 to share their support for and concerns about MSU Extension. These residents and the dozens more who spilled out of the room and into the courthouse hallways braved some really challenging driving conditions to share their insights.
Not everyone who spoke was full of praise for MSU Extension. Yet, Doug Brahee, interim District 1 coordinator, reports that all speakers but one related how important MSU Extension was in their lives, whether it was through their 4-H experiences, assistance they’ve received in their farming operations or their home lives. Doug shared that he went into the meeting hoping there might be 10 to 15 residents in attendance. The crowd clearly surprised him, and inspired him.
Doug said, “It was indeed humbling and awesome. The passion of the 4-H’ers and the volunteers, the program participants, the grandparents who were in 4-H was so evident.”
Commissioners had received 27 letters of support prior to the meeting as well.
Not surprisingly, the board voted to approve the agreement to continue the partnership with MSU Extension for the new year. They clearly have expectations that we’ll work hard to address – there’s that accountability thing again. But sometimes it helps to hear from the hearts of so many people how important they consider our work in their communities. This story comes from Gogebic County, but it applies to us all. Take pride in what you and your colleagues are doing. We really ARE helping people to improve their lives, and in the process, we’re helping to improve Michigan!
I want to thank not only Doug, but also Lucia Patritto and Erin Ross, Extension educators located in Gogebic County, who helped to encourage citizens to share their stories. Many people contribute to our work in Gogebic County, but these three colleagues represent us each day.