Thursday, April 30, 2009


I am having a profound, "What the crap?!" moment right now. In fact, that statement doesn't even come close to describing the sadness and anger that I am experiencing right now. Not even close.

I just received a notice from my county Extension director that her job has been eliminated.
And not just her job - no, ALL ONE HUNDRED county Extension director positions in the ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA have now been ELIMINATED. In addition to the loss of 100 Extension directors are 5 area directors. There will be additional cuts across the board to state staff and programs. The five focus areas will be reduced to three.

I am pissed off right now. Why? Because Extension programs made me who I am; because the woman you know as Jessica Rohrig was shaped by Extension programs; because I know that I would not be where I am today without the support, encouragement and guidance provided to me by my County Extension Director. I am not over-exaggerating these comments. I know who I was, and I know who I am.

Without 4-H, I would not have stepped out of my shell. Yes, 4-H is a local program...but without our county council, I would not have stepped out into leadership positions. Without Deb Hall, there would be no Speak Out For Agriculture program where I could interact with youth from other counties to plan educational (and fun!) career-based experiences, as well as develop the confidence to approach professionals working in the agricultural industry. Without Deb Hall, I would not have applied for area and state awards. Working with Deb Hall, I had the opportunity to ensure the continuation of the Southwest Iowa Area Council - an avenue which further increased my confidence in who I was and what I had to offer as an individual and as a leader. Without Deb Hall, I would not have pursued my Master's degree... I most certainly would never have chosen my intended field as Ag Education with an emphasis on Extension, if I had not had the opportunity to learn from and alongside her.

Deb Hall changed my life. She saw potential in me that I could only have dreamt of existing. She put in countless hours molding and shaping me into the leader that I am today. I know that she would never to make such claims and would be humbled by my boldness to assert that she is the reason. By the grace of God, He allowed me to know her. By the grace of God, He gave her wisdom and insight to know when to encourage the timid girl that I was.

Why am I pissed off at this decision to cut ALL Extension directors? It is not because my mentor and friend is losing her job. It is because my heart breaks that future 4-Hers will not have the opportunity to experience this same thing. I know that I am not an exceptional case. I know that in every county, there are countless stories of youth growing into expectional men and women, leaders in their counties and state because an Extension director invested in their lives.

I am mad that our society values the investment in our youth so little. I am mad that we will spend billions to "stimulate the economy" and pour billions into the auto industry and Fannie Mae and Freddie mac, while the future of our state quietly gets cut from the budget. People say over and over again that the youth are the future. Well, why don't we start investing in what works for change? Why don't we invest in people? Why don't we allow what has worked for over a century to continue to do so?

Land-grant institutions were created to bring education to the people - to the common folk - to the farmers and the housewives. Extension was the primary vehicle for this delivery. It makes no sense to remove the state's connection to the people - the County Director - in order to save a few dollars. It is the people who live in these counties who know how to best serve their people. It is the people at the state level who are disconnected. Extension was a beautiful picture of grass-roots...and recently, this has been marred by a lot of top-down, beaurucratic decisions.

Today's announcement says that more control will go to the counties. No, it won't. Today's announcement promises to be good for Iowa and for the future. Well, it will be good for high population centers. But, for those of us growing up in rural Iowa - for those of us who live in counties where the population is diminishing - well, we'll see diminished service. So much for growing the economies or the populations in these areas. So much for serving ALL of the people. Tell me, how will that be good for Iowa? How will it be good for those youth?

What the crap.

While a sophomore in high school, our county was working to pass a referendum to increase the property tax by $0.01 to support Extension programs. Alongside many volunteers, I helped to promote this effort by going door to door, talking to people and handing out stickers. It was from this effort that I began to value grass-roots efforts. It was from this endeavor that I learned that people can bring about positive changes - that people have a role to play in what happens to them - that people have power! FROM EXTENSION! As a 16-year-old, I learned that I have a responsibility for what happens to me...and some adults have yet to learn this.

Something has to be done. We cannot just sit back and allow a small committee to make a decision that essentially affects the entire state of Iowa. I don't know what can be done or even where to start - but I know that we can - and must - do something. This is our time to speak up. If we don't, no one will. We are the ones who have been shaped and changed by Extension, we must stand up to preserve it. If you're interested in joining me, let me know.