Lincoln, Neb. —Dru wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up — but living in Cheyenne County, over 400 miles away from Lincoln and Omaha, means that opportunities to attend science youth programs are limited.
Last summer, as many of his other activities were being canceled due to COVID-19, Dru was able to further his interest through a virtual Biomedical Engineering Camp offered by Nebraska Extension’s 4-H program. The camp allowed participants to simulate surgery with a laparoscopic camera, experiment with pill coatings, design a prosthetic leg and more.
Dave Varner, interim director of Nebraska Extension, says stories like Dru’s help illustrate the vital importance of the organization to the state.
“Nebraska Extension has a long history of helping communities thrive, and in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred us to be more flexible and responsive than ever before,” Varner said. “Extension professionals reached Nebraskans through just about every form of technology imaginable. They reconfigured events, from county fairs to research field demonstrations, to safely serve the public. And, as these impact reports show, they made a big difference all across the state.”
The organization’s work, which spans 93 counties, is highlighted in a series of 2020 impact reports now available online.
When Jim Jenkins began thinking about incorporating sheep into his Custer County cattle ranch, he turned to Nebraska Extension for help. The organization connected him with resources and other producers, and today, Jenkins has added 1,000 head of ewes to his operation.
Extension plays a large role in boosting the economies of rural communities. In 2020, 60 startups were created with the help of extension experts.
One of those startups was Day and Rod Transportation LLC, owned by Rodelsy Mirabal, a commercial truck driver from Cuba. When Mirabal looked into starting his own trucking business, he contacted Nebraska Extension, who helped him form an LLC and apply for a loan.
“Nebraska Extension helped me create my own business, in my own language, easily and at no cost,” Mirabal said. “Thank you for supporting dreamers like me!”
As many schools and activities went remote during the pandemic, Nebraska Extension got creative to support children, families and caregivers.
Ten-thousand youth across the state participated in live, online educational programs offered by Nebraska 4-H in 2020. 4-H activities at county fairs also continued, with some modifications to keep participants safe.
The organization also offered new healthy lifestyle programming last year. Three-hundred participants logged 4,187 miles through a “Marathon Kids” Facebook group designed to keep children active. Nearly 2 million people also visited https://food.unl.edu for the latest in food safety and nutrition.
Additionally, extension delivered free online education that allowed childcare workers to obtain their required hours of professional development. Participants earned a total of 1,800 hours in 2020.
Nebraska Extension has over 20 community gardens throughout the state. In 2020, 168,000 servings of fresh produce from those gardens were donated to local food banks. Along with helping address food insecurity in rural areas, the gardens allowed volunteers to get outside and practice their horticulture skills.
“Helping with the raised-bed vegetable garden was fun, something we got to do as a couple, and we got to see the plants start to finish,” said Doug and Alisa Soderstrom, master gardener volunteers from Gage County. “They did better than our garden!”
Near the beginning of the pandemic, Lancaster County’s 4-H program coordinated three community-service sewing projects. During the initial phase, Hats for Hospitals, youth and adults spent over 500 hours creating 778 cotton surgeon hats. During the Sewing for Hospitals phase, volunteers constructed 1,011 cotton face coverings. The sewing has continued.
To learn more, visit the Nebraska Extension website.