Building Successful Community Collaboration Programming for Cooperative Extension Survival at the County Level

Article excerpt

The building of public and community support for local cooperative extension (CE) programs and of ongoing staff interactions with clients, community, and stakeholders, is a part of the daily rounds of county staff. Constant acts of nurturance and maintenance of relationships establish a solid foundation for support and set the stage for important collaborative ventures and partnerships.

Repeated reports have been made in the western region and elsewhere in the country about reduced funding for CE programs at the county level and, in particular, the low priority for human resources-family and consumer sciences (FCS) positions and programs. This article shares how FCS became a major vehicle to garner support for local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCE) programs and contributed significantly to the stability of the funding base in Alameda County, California.

Staff members learned how to magnify the effect of FCS programs through widespread in-kind and collaborative community support and by initiating a constant search for extramural financial resources. Through effective public relations and public partnerships, FCS programs came, and continue, to hold a place of public esteem among local supporters. Most important, the people of Alameda County and the San Francisco Bay Area appreciate the services provided by CE programs.

BACKGROUND

In the early 1990s, widespread reductions occurred in local funding to California's counties and cities. Fund support for some county-- based CE offices was severely threatened, some offices were cut back, and others were targeted for deletion from county budgets. Funding support for CE offices in Alameda County over a 2- to 3-year period was reduced by more than 50%. As a matter of survival, CE staff members in Alameda County used aggressive and creative approaches to secure and maintain viable local support for the future of countybased programs.

THE CHALLENGE

Alameda County is a predominantely industrialized, urban and suburban environment in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area, with some agricultural production. Because CE programs focus on urban issues in the area, staff members listened reflectively to the constituencies' questions about CE services.

* Why has extension moved beyond its original legislative purpose of serving agriculture?

* With the number of farmers at its lowest level in this century, why do we need to continue the extension service?

* Why is extension serving urban areas as other resources are available in urban areas?

* Why is extension involved in programming that duplicates that of social service agencies?

* Why have extension resources been shifted form agriculture and natural resources to family, youth, and social programs?

Everyone needed to play an important role in addressing these questions. Each staff member had a personal responsibility to serve as an ambassador of "good will." Staff members sought support for CE programs each time they interfaced with their clients and the public at large. …