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‘You’ve reached the right extension’

Christina M. Currie

“Push one for information on services. Push two for complaints. Press three for more options.”

Speaking to a human being isn’t listed among the “other options.”

The seemingly old-fashioned concept of customer service isn’t dead at least not at the Colorado State University Moffat County Cooperative Extension Office.

When residents call there, they always get to speak to a person and get research-based answers to nearly any question.

From crops and soils to consumer issues and nutrition to natural resources and agriculture, Colorado State University Extension Offices exist to provide information and programs on issues affecting individuals, youth, families and agricultural producers across the state.

“The beauty of extension is we are quick humans who can get the answer to almost any question,” Moffat County Extension Agent Elisa Shackelton said. “If you’re not sure of something and want a human to help, we’re here to give research-based help.”

The Moffat County Extension Office has four agents, each with his or her own area of expertise. There is an agent for agriculture and horticulture, 4-H programs, family and consumer science, and food stamp nutrition education.

Shackelton is the family and consumer sciences agent.

“I pretty much deal with anything that has to do with humans,” she said.

That includes dwellings, food, fitness and consumer decisions.

Have questions about high-altitude cooking, lead-based paint, which cereal offers the highest level of nutrition or how to get a stain out of a couch?

Finding the answers to those questions is Shackelton’s job, and one she says she loves.

“It feels so good to find an answer for someone,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah! We just helped someone!'”

No question is stupid and no question is too small, she said.

Each agent handles approximately 50 calls a month, but in some offices across the state, that number soars to 200. Shackelton said she would like the Moffat County office to be that way.

“I’d like to encourage more people in Moffat County to call,” she said. “I’d love to have my phone ringing off the hook.”

She’s had questions that range from “How many cups of batter go into a 16-inch pan?” to “What are the side effects of using marijuana?” The first for a cake and the second for a student’s term paper.

Extension agents can answer nearly any question, and, if not, they will do the research to find an answer.

John Balliette, the new extension agent at the local office, can answer questions involving horticulture, agriculture or natural resources. Those can range from identifying houseplants and treating insects and rodents to managing livestock.

“He basically can help people with anything they’re growing, whether it be lawns, trees, gardens or animals,” Shackelton said. “He’s a wealth of information.”

Balliette plans to host several workshops on agricultural issues as they come up. He’s just getting his feet wet, having been in the office for less than a month.

Beth Dubois works as the food stamp nutrition education agent, providing information on nutrition and food safety to low-income clients. She works with social services and the Women, Infants and Children program.

Nate Balstad is the extension office’s 4-H agent, working with youth and developing projects and programs.

“The 4-H program is such a powerful national program that I think every parent should look into for their children,” Shackelton said.

4-H connects youth with a project, club or activity in which they learn life, social and leadership skills.

It also is one of few extracurricular activities parents are not only welcome to join, but the organization encourages them.

“It really is a program for the entire family and helps build those parent/child relationships that so many parents find hard to do,” Shackelton said.

The 4-H organization is a huge opportunity for youth, as well as adults, Balstad said.

The 4-H programs are as diverse as the participants. Offerings include sewing, cooking, rocketry, woodworking, animal training, art, photography, shooting, and, of course, competitive horseback riding and animal husbandry, to name a few.

People who can’t find something suitable in the hundreds of projects or activities offered are not left out. Balstad said he will organize a program or a project to cater to just about any interest.

“There’s something for everyone in the world in 4-H,” he said. “We can come up with programs, projects or activities that will suit anyone.”

The 4-H organization is a federally funded program. Participants pay $10 a year, which covers everything.

The extension office also sponsors several programs, such as parenting education, youth development through 4-H, cooking and food safety.

“I always think of the cooperative extension as one of the nation’s best-kept secrets,” Shackelton said. “We’re driven to provide community programs to meet people’s needs.”

The extension office generates ideas for those programs based on what agents think the community needs or wants, but they encourage people to suggest programs.

“We’ll do programs on request and we welcome groups to call if they need a speaker,” Shackelton said. “We try to live in our community and see what the community needs are and try to respond as quickly as possible.”

The extension office’s services and programs are flexible, she said, and are designed to cater to whatever the pressing needs of the community are at any give time.

The office hosts a monthly healthy lunch program in which people can use their lunch hour to cook and eat a nutritious meal, as well as several after-school programs, including outdoor activities, nutrition and a Harry Potter book club.

In December, youth are invited to a craft workshop from which they leave with several hand-made holiday gifts.

“We’re definitely looking for ideas from people,” Shackelton said. “We’re definitely receptive to community needs.”

She’s considering offering financial planning programs and a parent education/support group. She also is working to create a fact sheet on long-distance parenting that will be distributed across the state.

“What’s neat about extension is the people who come to our programs have fun,” Shackelton said.

The mission of cooperative extension is to provide information and education, and encourage the application of research-based knowledge in response to local, state, and national issues affecting individuals, youth, families, agricultural enterprises, and communities of Colorado.

Twenty-one county extension offices in Colorado have satellite downlink capability. The sites can receive both C- and Ku-bands.

Moffat and Routt counties offer this service.

Public access computers are available in 14 cooperative extension county offices around the state, including the Moffat County office. These computers are funded in part by grants from the US West Foundation and from Access Colorado Library Information Network, and, in part, by county commissioners and Colorado State Cooperative Extension.


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