NEWARK, Del. — For a group of Sussex County youth, the summer of 2021 ushered in a return to normalcy and a chance to experience a day in the life of a University of Delaware Cooperative Extension agent. The week-long in-person summer day camp led by University of Delaware Cooperative Extension staff of agents, specialists and 4-H teen camp counselors was hosted by Sussex County 4-H. The camp is open to 10- to 14-year-old 4-H members and non-members alike.
The five-day camp was packed with hands-on learning, a hallmark of 4-H outreach. Sunny summer weather enabled campers to receive a good deal of fresh-air exploration and adventure and a unique opportunity to meet UD Extension agents and specialists and receive an inside look at their outreach and research careers.
You’ll find no pipe-cleaner art here. With a different agent each day, campers were busy learning how Extension professionals serve their Delaware communities. Together campers flew drones, tended bee hives, grew lettuce for a healthy salad, served as plant detectives, solved common environmental challenges in poultry houses, built microscopes from scratch and extracted DNA from strawberries. All areas of Extension outreach were represented during the week — 4-H Youth Development, Family and Consumer Science, Lawn and Garden and Agriculture.
The Exploring Extension theme was the 2019 brainchild of Jill Jackson, Sussex 4-H educator who sought inspiration for a new day camp. Jackson didn’t have to go far to find it. Enthusiastic affirmation and ideas were right down the hallway and offices at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, an ideal centrally located venue to host the inaugural camp. Although 2020’s virtual camp was a well-attended success, everyone felt happy to return on campus this summer.
The idea of an Extension themed camp was purposeful. As anticipated, on the first day, when asked, only one camper knew what Cooperative Extension was, a common reaction that Jackson seeks to rectify.
“When some people hear the word Cooperative Extension, they sometimes get our organization confused with Delaware Electric Cooperative,” Jackson said. “We want to share with people from a young age what Cooperative Extension is all about. These youth help spread the word to peers and family members that Cooperative Extension loves to help our community.”
Partnering with her in that task from the very beginning were Jackson’s Extension co-workers based at Carvel, who relished a chance to work with younger constituents.
“I love working with these campers, teaching them something new about Extension and hopefully getting them to try a new fruit or vegetable that they haven’t before — and maybe even their friends and families,” said Nancy Mears, family and consumer science educator.
“Seeing campers outside learning, exploring and asking ‘why’ was great,” said Tracy Wootten, horticulture agent. “They learned a lot about invasive plants and insects. We emphasized the importance of correct identification as well as preventing invasive establishment in our local ecosystem.”
Extension plant pathologist Alyssa Koehler hoped the experience might inspire new careers.
“I loved plants growing up, but I had no idea about any of the careers you could do,” said Koehler. “It is inspiring to see the kids having fun and knowing that there’s lots of science and agriculture career opportunities out there.”
“I work with the best team,” added Jackson. “They go the extra mile — building miniature poultry houses, providing the full bio-security protection gear, having beekeeping protection to wear, tasting honey directly from the hive. How each of them made this experience memorable for our campers makes me proud to represent Delaware Cooperative Extension.”
–Michele Walfred, University of Delaware