Kelli Rau, 4-H program coordinator, and Jessica St. George, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ‒ Education (SNAP-Ed) instructor, took over leadership of the Iosco County Family Fun Fair and built strategic connections for Michigan State University Extension as the county gears up for a millage renewal.
The Iosco County Family Enrichment Coalition started the Family Fun Fair 19 years ago to educate the community about local programs and services available to families with young children. In 2014, the Family Enrichment Coalition dissolved and put the event in jeopardy of cancelation. Jessica and Kelli volunteered to take over leadership.
“As new staff members, neither of us knew what organizations existed or who to contact to make these connections,” Jessica said. “The Family Fun Fair opened that door and fostered these new connections and partnerships in a way we could not have done on our own at that time. The event also gave the participating organizations an opportunity to see the wide variety of services Extension offers and opportunities for developing new partnerships.”
The Family Fun Fair involves over 40 organizations and businesses annually that provide family-friendly activities and share information about the resources they offer within the community. Through coordinating the event, Kelli and Jessica helped MSU Extension establish contacts with these organizations and open doors to new programming opportunities.
In their first year coordinating the Family Fun Fair, MSU Extension reached 724 participants. Based on the event survey, the participants were primarily people living in low-income situations, and 96 percent of all participants were not currently using Extension’s services. Kelli and Jessica used this data to be more deliberate in planning programs in the Oscoda community for the remainder of 2015.
In 2016, participation increased to 895 community members and 45 organizations. Awareness of Extension’s services also increased 83 percent as a direct result of the Family Fun Fair involvement and the improved program methodology.
Through the Family Fun Fair, Jessica and Kelli also connected to the collaborative bodies within the county and increased awareness of Extension’s services to a larger network of organizations and businesses.
“Also, with the Iosco County Extension millage renewal on the August ballot, having a stronger network of informed supporters has been extremely beneficial in getting the word out to the community regarding the impact of the millage and what stands to be lost if the millage does not pass,” Kelli said. “Our relationship with our county commissioners and administrators has also flourished as a result of our expanded programming and community connectivity.”
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start in building community relationships. Getting involved in events will help you build relationships with key community members and groups and help to spread the word about Extension. Do you have any community events that come to mind that MSU Extension could get involved in?