Engaging Communities Through Issues Forums

We are doing so by periodic communication strategies, supporting the work of the Strategic Doing™ groups, reporting on progress and outcomes, capitalizing on new opportunities, and adapting future initiatives from the lessons learned. And we are committed to sharing what we’ve learned through professional articles, presentations and investigating additional sources of funding. Communications We have communicated regularly with Strategic Doing™ groups in months 3 to 6. We sent monthly emails and training flyers to all registrants and key stakeholders. We focused on the Strategic Doing™ group progress, new resources and publicized professional development or trainings that were offered as a result of the forum. These included initiatives of the Strategic Doing™ groups as well as Extension initiatives that built on the forum content. The goals of these communiques were to maintain and strengthen momentum and to provide updates to key stakeholders. Strategic Doing™ Groups For each of the forums, Strategic Doing™ groups continued working for several months. The success of the groups depended on the group leader, commitment, and resources of group participants, as well as the ability to resize the project into something doable in a short time. With support from Extension personnel, many groups continued some level of action that made a difference with change efforts sustained over time. For example, in Delaware, health care professionals were invited to conduct screenings at agricultural meetings. That has continued since 2018 to the writing of this publication (2021). Mental Health First Aid training has been offered annually since 2018 in Delaware free of charge thanks to funding and support from community partners. In Maryland, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (SARE) grant dollars have helped to provide training for agriculture service providers, conduct a statewide forum to discuss farm stress as well as conduct farm stress programming with producers. In 2021, University of Maryland Extension received a $500,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture to provide behavioral health therapy for the farming population. Reporting The evaluation data we collected helped to tell a story with multiple groups. Both quantitative and qualitative data were included in end of year Extension reporting. The final report to funders also was reworked to share with key Extension administrators and colleagues as well as community stakeholders at multiple levels. Lastly, press coverage of the forum and the ability to provide relevant information to our local farming publication, brought additional helpful resources to our clientele. Opportunities Planning for and conducting the forum helped participants and key stakeholders see another side of Extension — one that can address issues at the community level. This new awareness helped to open doors to funding, new partnerships, and an increased awareness about the breadth of programming that Extension offers to many community partners who previously only knew one program area of Extension. Opportunities provided by the Extension Foundation National Technology Agriculture Extension (NTAE) funding helped Delaware and Maryland become more recognized in a different way as a player in the food system arena. Funding has come to Extension because of the forums. As examples, Maryland received funding to support a SARE project that supports farm mental health while Delaware has received funding to underwrite the Mental Health First Aid training for agriculture service providers and community members living in rural areas. Funding from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development as well as the Extension Foundation has helped to engage community members in addressing the needs of our farm populations. By engaging the community to help support our farm audiences, Extension has been seen as an important player in community health arenas.

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