ATHENS, Ga. — Erica Chaney and Shamona Willis, both Talbot County natives, have joined the staff of the local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office in that county.
Chaney is the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) program assistant and Willis is the county Extension 4-H educator. “I’ve always liked working with people and meeting new people,” she said. “When the job with UGA Extension became available, I saw it as a good opportunity to go back to my community and give back.”
Chaney will be teaching Food Talk nutrition lessons in the community through EFNEP, a federally funded program that is free to low-income Georgians.
“There are eight Food Talk sessions and after completing them all, participants receive a certificate and a recipe book,” she said. “I’ll be teaching how to prepare budget-friendly, quick, healthy and affordable meals.”
Chaney is searching for partners to work with to reach as many people in the county as possible.
“I can go out anywhere in the community as long as I have a table and a skillet,” she said. “I’m from Talbotton (in Talbot County), so I know a lot of people, but there are also a lot of new people. I really think this program will be good for the community.”
So far, Chaney has met with the local senior center, the Talbot County Housing Authority and Family Connections to discuss offering EFNEP to their clients. She would also like to teach EFNEP sessions to Head Start staff, to parents and in churches.
“Talbot County is really spread out, so I really want to go to each town — Woodland, Box Springs, Junction City and Geneva. I want everyone to have an opportunity to attend the EFNEP classes.”
Chaney has a heart for her hometown and county, and she is emotional when she talks about the tornadoes that ripped through the county this year.
“This is my home and when I came back to visit and help, I didn’t recognize my home. It was devastating,” she said. “But we are rebuilding, and everyone is okay. That’s all that matters.”
A 1990 graduate of Central High School, Chaney attended Tuskegee University and Flint River Technical College. She later earned her Certified Nursing Assistant license and worked in the medical field and with the Talbot County Board of Education in the Head Start program, the Early Reading First program and as a substitute teacher.
Willis, the new 4-H Educator served at the Talbot County Library for 18 years, beginning as a circulation clerk and serving as branch manager for the past 10 years. She also ran the bookmobile for two years, which allowed her to get to know a lot of residents.
“Through the library, I worked with the last 4-H agent and that drew my interest to the position,” Willis said. “I enjoy doing crafts and working with children. So far, this position has opened me up to a lot of different areas; I’m learning right along with the kids.”
Willis meets with the elementary, middle, and high school students on the third Monday and Tuesday of each month. Georgia 4-H curriculum is designed to educate children is specific areas, but the 4-H agent is able to personalize the lessons.
“Right now, I’m teaching agriculture and science-based lessons and then we will move into healthy living,” she said. “With my ninth graders, we are learning about money. I tweak the programs so that I can deliver them in a fun, interactive way.”
A 1997 graduate of Central High School, Willis graduated from North Central University with a master’s degree in business administration-management in 2017.
Willis grew up participating in Talbot County 4-H and her daughter, Kimeyata Willis, also participated as a Talbot County 4-H’er. She remembers going to camp at Rock Eagle 4-H Center and sending her daughter there.
“Now, I will be the one reassuring the parents that I will bring the children back the same way I got them,” she laughed.
Willis looks forward to bringing new 4-H programs to the county, like poultry judging and BB sports.
“There are a lot of different things that other communities do that we have been missing out on,” she said.
For more information about Talbot County Extension, visit the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 401 Washington Avenue, Talbotton, Georgia.
–Sharon Dowdy, University of Georgia