The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Sampson County has seen its fair share of staff shuffling already, and the local Extension director said more changes could come in the near future as decisions are made at the state level.
Eileen Coite, director of the Sampson County Extension Service, gave an overview this week of every aspect of the Extension’s programming, staff and the rich history of the county service over the years. As part of the county’s budget discussions, department heads and key county officials have made presentations to the Sampson Board of Commissioners.
Coite said the Extension Service, as a whole, has been in a period of transition.
“We are having challenging times on the state side,” said Coite, who came to Sampson from Wayne County in May 2013. “We’ve been having trouble since 2000.”
Since that time, N.C. Extension budget cuts have totaled approximately $20 million, $13.7 million in the last four or five years, amounting to a 27 percent cut statewide, Coite noted.
“That’s been hard on us,” she remarked. “We’ve lost more than 90 (permanent) county positions. There are folks that are retiring all the time, and those positions are not getting filled.”
There is currently a visioning initiative in the works by which a strategic plan for the N.C. Extension’s future will take shape.
“Back in the fall, we had listening sessions throughout the state and (county manager Ed) Causey went with us to Duplin County — all of the data that was put together in those visioning sessions from across the state has been compiled,” said Coite. “The visioning team (consists) of about 50 folks from across the state — all the way from the county level up to the university specialists — that are taking in all this data and trying to come up with a plan for the future for Cooperative Extension.”
A meeting of that visioning team was set for this week. The strategic plan, and what it will mean to local Extension’s across the state, is expected to be released this spring.
“The plan is by spring, hopefully by May, they’re going to have a plan to put in place to keep Extension strong in North Carolina, to keep providing the resources that we have and deal with the challenging times and the resources we have lost,” Coite remarked.
Along with other Extension agencies across the state, Sampson’s has seen changes in recent months, including staff taking on new and additional responsibilities, the result of state budget tightening. Despite funding challenges, Coite and local staff said they remain dedicated to providing the services and programs that the community has enjoyed for many years.
Through state, federal and county partnerships, the Extension offers unbiased research-based education information in an effort to extend knowledge, empower people, provide solutions and change lives for the better, Coite noted.
That comes in a variety of areas, including agriculture and natural resources, 4-H youth development and family and consumer sciences — and a plethora of programs in each. From resources about horticulture, field crops and livestock to school enrichment, summer programs and substance abuse prevention, or even nutrition, health and wellness and parenting programs, the Extension encompasses a great deal, she said.
While there have been changes in some of that service delivery, Coite said the quality of staff and resources has not diminished.
“It’s something that has been talked about a lot for years,” she said of the restructuring. “Extensions in many other states have gone through similar changes, but it’s definitely something new for North Carolina.”
Coite again reminded the board of the Extension’s Centennial this year, a major milestone for a service that has been invaluable to local farmers, agri-business leaders, 4-Hers and many others in the community. As much as the Centennial is about honoring the past, it is just as much about creating a bright future.
“We’re excited about that and, if there is a time for us to look toward the next 100 years, to stay strong and stay active, now is the time to do it,” said Coite.
While the Extension is celebrating 100 years, Sampson’s service is a bit older than that. Inside the Cooperative Extension offices in Sampson County, a mural on the wall notes “Serving Sampson County since 1911.”
Coite explained that many counties started their Extension services prior to the enactment of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the federal law that officially established the Extension system, connecting such services to land-grant universities, in order to keep citizens up to date about developments in agriculture, public policy, 4-H, economic development and related matters.
“The Sampson County Extension has been around a long time,” Coite said, “and we’re excited about that and we’re looking toward the celebration.”
That celebration is on tap for May 5.
To inquire about the Centennial festivities or about local Extension services in Sampson County, call the Extension office at 910-592-7161. For more information about the Extension and its offerings, visit the Extension online at sampson.ces.ncsu.edu.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.