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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Celebrate Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council Month in May


By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture

As the largest volunteer organization in the state, the Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council and its nearly 3,000 members are dedicated to improving their communities and their quality of life. To recognize the organization’s achievements and contributions to the state, celebrate May as Extension Homemakers Month in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Extension Homemakers program was started in 1912 by the Cooperative Extension Service, the outreach and teaching arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, to expand the reach of extension programming. The organization has a three-part mission: lifelong learning, community service and leadership development.

“The purpose of the three-part mission of EHC is to empower people to improve quality of life,” said Laura Hendrix, extension associate professor of personal finance and consumer economics for the Division of Agriculture and advisor to EHC. “While EHC has been around for decades, recent years have seen increased use of new technology and methods to stay connected. Members meet via Zoom and Facebook Live, and webpages and materials are updated for accessibility.”

Hendrix said that in 2023, 5,491 volunteers with EHC contributed more than 200,000 hours of community service, valued at $6.7 million.

“The Cooperative Extension Service and Arkansas Extension Homemakers have partnered on EHC programs for more than 100 years,” Hendrix said. “EHC clubs and councils collaborate with business, community and public service organizations and leaders in their local communities. Arkansas EHC also partners with a variety of organizations at the state level, including the Arkansas Food Bank, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.”

From 2019-2022, Arkansas EHC focused on food insecurity as its state project. Members raised more than 4.5 million meals through food drives and monetary donations to local food pantries and the state’s six regional food banks.

In 2023, the organization kicked off its next state project, EHC Cares, focusing on mental health awareness. Dot Hart, a member of the New Horizons EHC Club in Jefferson County, said she brought this topic to the state EHC board.

“Mental health awareness is close to my heart,” Hart said. “I pitched that to our board, it’s personal to me. We’ve offered mental health first aid training to our EHC members and community members, and a couple of counties have done crafting for mental health awareness or mental health walks.”

Hart said the project aims to destigmatize mental health and educate members — and by extension, their communities — about available mental health resources.

“It’s just about being that advocate,” Hart said. “I always say, Extension Homemakers are boots on the ground. That’s how I look at us.”

Leading and learning with EHC

As part of the continuing education mission, Hendrix said extension specialists and agents develop non-formal educational programs and train volunteers to teach others the latest research-based information about money management, health, nutrition and personal development.

EHC also offers training and opportunities for members to serve in leadership roles, such as in their club, county and state offices. Deb Teague, a member of The Scrappers EHC Club in Lawrence County, said EHC has helped her become a leader in her day-to-day life.

“The leadership development portion of our organization has benefitted me more than any other part,” Teague said. “It’s helped me with other roles I hold in my life.”

Teague has served as president of her county Extension Homemakers Council, the creative skills chair, and district director of the Delta District for the EHC state office. She currently serves as the organization’s president-elect and will take office as president in July.

“When I talk to people about EHC, the most common thing they say is, ‘I have a job, I’m not a homemaker,’” Teague said. “I always tell people that if you have a place where you live, where you cook and clean, you are a homemaker. Our organization has valuable information that can help you on a wide variety of subjects, to help you do what you’re already doing in a better way.

“Our leadership focus can give you tools to do your job better,” Teague said. “Our community service can help get your name out there, and it can go on your resume and look good to employers. Our organization can assist you with what you’re already doing.”

Hart said EHC has helped her become more vocal as a leader and an individual.

“I have grown so much as a person, as a leader,” Hart said. “I’m originally from Kentucky, and people don’t believe me when I say that I’m shy, I’m quiet. But if there’s a passion, I’m an advocate. If I feel that there’s a need, I want to be that voice. I want to make that difference. And extension has allowed me to do that.”

Hart has served as associate and district director of the Delta District. She has also served as vice president of the National Volunteer Outreach Network, a collection of service organizations from ten states, with which Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council is affiliated. Arkansas EHC is also affiliated of Associated Country Women of the World, a global organization with members from 82 countries.

Power of social connection

EHC also provides an important opportunity for members to socialize with each other, which has emotional and physical benefits.

“Social connection provides value in increased physical health, improved mental health and lower risk of hospitalization, emergency department visits and death,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said a recent survey of EHC members shows that 83 percent have increased social connections because of the program.

“This is especially important because social connection is a critical component of well-being, healthy aging, longevity and prevention of neurodegeneration,” Hendrix said.

Teague, who owns a 1,000-acre rice and soybean farm with her husband, said EHC has helped her connect with women in her community, which is especially welcome in her male-dominated field of agriculture.

“I am around men all the time, there are very few females in the farming world,” Teague said. “Whether I’m picking up parts or paying bills, it’s all men. So, Extension Homemakers Council gives me an outlet that’s mostly women to socialize with. When you get a bunch of women together, we can commiserate and build each other up.”

Hart said her favorite part of being in EHC has been the fellowship with fellow members.

“I love community,” she said. “I am a community volunteer, and I just like the programs that extension offers. I really like sharing and taking part in that. It’s one big family, and it gives us a chance to have fellowship and enjoy each other.”

To learn more about Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council or join a local club, visit the Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council webpage or contact Laura Hendrix at [email protected].

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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