WSU extension celebrating 100 years of service to families in Whatcom County

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 24, 2014 

Washington State University Extension is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The Smith-Lever Act that authorized the nationwide cooperative extension partnership between the federal government, the land-grant colleges and county government to bring the benefits of education to the people was signed on May 8, 1914. We are proud to be part of that legacy in Whatcom County.

The historical association with home economics is as old as our system. The Department of Domestic Economy was established at WSU, then WSC, in 1903 and the state's first extension home economist was hired in 1913. Our Whatcom County programs flourished along with other programs in the state as we developed a dedicated cadre of women who formed Extension Homemaker clubs who met to support each other in the non-formal education to best care for their families. Later we developed a volunteer program to teach food preservation and safety to local residents. All those programs flourished for years and then faded as our demographics changed, more women joined the workforce and modern conveniences took the place of these programs.

Our WSU Whatcom County Extension programs reflect the changing needs in family life education. Home economics, once revered as a profession and an academic discipline, is now a rarity. WSU students who once majored in home economics can now seek degrees in human development with a focus on family and consumer science education. Departments of interior design, fashion design, apparel and merchandising are thriving throughout the country. Our local extension programs for families have shifted into healthy lifestyle education offerings that focus on healthy relationships with a special focus on parent-child interactions, healthy eating and child feeding practices, active lifestyles that support personal health and disease prevention. Throughout the history of cooperative extension in Whatcom County we have been faithful to our mission to bring science to the people to assure they have a safe and productive life. Our new tag line is "expanding knowledge, changing lives." We deliver science-based information and programs through a variety of means, including the internet, to assure that people have the information they need to preserve food safely, eat a balanced and nutritionally sound diet, understand how to prevent obesity in children and diabetes in themselves, and how to strengthen their family communication and parenting skills.

We have two marquee programs that are offered throughout the county to youth and adults: Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth 10-14 Years and Food $ense Nutrition Education. Strengthening families provides seven weeks of education to families in both English and Spanish. The program, which is recognized internationally as a "best-practice model," helps guide both youth and parents in developing skills for the future and allows them to practice communication techniques that promote strong on-going relationships as the youth pass through the adolescent years. We have completed over 60 series in our county since the program began in 2002 and we have consistently completed evaluations that show both parents and youth are making changes. We will continue to offer this program in both languages throughout Whatcom County in the coming years.

Food $ense Nutrition Education programs serve both youth and adult audiences with hands-on nutrition education and encouragement of active lifestyles. Our programs use science-based information to help people of all ages, make healthy choices about how they feed themselves and their loved ones. Our results show increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and a greater knowledge of how to select and prepare foods. Our current and future programs will continue to serve youth audiences, adults in a variety of settings and will collaborate with our partners to make sure that the food environments and messaging in schools and other locations promote healthy choices.

We have two other programs that we celebrate this year. We are able to answer home food preservation and safety questions by phone and on our website. Our two rigorously trained food preservation/safety information assistants answer questions in a timely manner. Our diabetes prevention program uses a program developed and proven effective by the Centers for Disease Control. The 16-week core program and the six follow-up monthly sessions with our diabetes prevention lifestyle coach are changing the lives of participants who are losing weight, becoming more active and reducing their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Both these programs will continue into the future as we focus on family and community health in our WSU Whatcom County Extension programs for families.

Our website has information on all of our programs and contains a great deal of science-based information that you can put to use in your life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Extension professor Drew Lenore Betz is the director of WSU Whatcom County Extension and is the faculty member who leads the family and community health programs. She is an affiliate faculty in the WSU Department of Human Development and earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology at Western Washington University.

This is the first of a series on WSU extension. Future articles will focus on extension programs that promote agriculture for farmers and youth and efforts to understand and protect our water resources.

For more information on WSU extension programs, go online to Whatcom.wsu.edu.

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