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Three years ago ...

PRINCETON — It was three years ago this month that University of Illinois Extension administrators announced a series of public meetings to gather information about a reorganization of Extension. Reduced funds from the state and the university required $7 million in cuts, and those cuts would result in a consolidated administrative structure, closing center offices, and staff reductions.

Today, almost all of the fears expressed at those meetings have not come to pass.

“Since the statewide reorganization, things are going very well,” said Jill Guynn, director for the multi-county unit that includes Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall and Putnam counties.

The previous 72 units were reconfigured into 27 units in May 2010, and Guynn, who was previously in charge of the Bureau County office, was put in charge of the new multi-unit.

Guynn said there was a lot of change at every level, which made it a difficult transition for the whole organization.

“But the outcomes and where we are have definitely been worth it, and it’s all positive,” Guynn said.

Guynn said the Extension office was able to maintain all its transitional programs as well as bring in new programs. There are also three educators dedicated to the four-county unit in the areas of family life, youth development and community and economic development.

In addition, the county offices have stayed open, and with the exception of the former county leaders, almost all of the staff has remained in place.

In addition to the offices in Princeton, Ottawa and Henry, there will soon be another office in Oglesby. Guynn said the unit council decided Illinois Valley Community College would be a good central location for Guynn and the three educators. Guynn said the office should open sometime after the completion of the new technology center at the college.

Some of the new programming has come in the area of 4-H.

“One of the nice things about having a multi-county unit is we do still have three separate 4-H programs,” said program coordinator Jennifer Caldwell. “But we’re able to work together on some things as well and actually bring in some additional opportunities for youth. If we have a program in one county that maybe isn’t offered in the other two programs, youth from those counties can participate.”

One new multi-county project is Science Excited, which is working through 13 after school science clubs throughout the multi-county unit. The clubs meet once a month, and the students get to do different science projects and activities.

Caldwell said they are also working on healthy lifestyles programs.

“Two of the programs that we have coming up are Health Rocks, which is a substance abuse prevention program for students, and we actually train high school students to go and present the program to elementary students,” she said. “There’s also Health Jam, which is for fourth- and fifth-graders to learn about health careers and living a healthy lifestyle.”

More new programming will be coming in the area of community and economic development. Guynn said new educator Jordan Ellena is working with the state team and learning about the different resources and programs that are available.

Guynn said people should feel free to contact the Extension office about the programs that are available. The family life educator can present programs on Fit Wits - a brain exercise class; Stories from the Past, or Looking for the Funny Side, and there are also more concentrated programming, such as Care for the Caregiver. There are also inter-disciplinary programming like youth gardening.

Guynn said the reorganization has helped with the financial concerns.

“The financing has changed because of the state reorganization and has been a cost effective opportunity for our units because now we have shared expenses which make things cheaper,” she said. “The funding formula is more beneficial to units now because we have more federal funding and state general revenue funds, in addition to our state matching funds.”

Guynn said the unit’s budget is still based on local donations, and they receive 75 cents from the state for every dollar of local donations.

“Our local donations determine whether we’re here or not,” Guynn said. “We’re very grateful to all of our funders.”

Those local donors support Extension in a number of ways, whether through annual gifts, memorial donations or fundraisers.

“All those things make it possible for us to deliver the programming that we have,” she said. “I feel very comfortable that as we move forward, we’ll find new funders through the some of the different programming that we hope to offer. Our goal is to maintain our current funding and grow new fundings.”

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