The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service was well represented on the 2020-2021 executive board of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, NEAFCS.
AgriLife Extension professionals accounted for three of its 13 national board members, including Dianne Gertson, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent for Fort Bend County, who recently completed her one-year term as association president.
In addition to Gertson, Michelle Wright, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent for Austin County, served as vice president for member resources. Lorrie Coop, AgriLife Extension District 3 administrator, served as the board’s Southern Region director.
“It was gratifying to have our agency so well represented on the NEAFCS board by these three professionals who have dedicated themselves to improving the quality of life for individuals, families and communities by working to meet their needs through various learning partnerships,” said Courtney Dodd, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension associate director for Health, Families and Youth Programs, Bryan-College Station.
What is the NEAFCS?
NEAFCS is an Extension family and consumer sciences organization that builds future leaders, provides professional growth and development opportunities and recognizes and promotes excellence in scholarship and programming.
The association also serves its members as a nationwide resource for education, information, networking and building partnerships to promote the mission and goals of the land-grant university extension system.
NEAFCS professionals provide families with science-based evidence and programs, enabling them to improve their family’s well-being in health, financial management, food and nutrition, food safety, healthy homes and environments, and family life.
The association comprises family and consumer science and family and community health professionals from throughout the land-grant system. The NEAFCS has a total of 2,835 life, student and partner members. The Texas affiliate is the association’s largest, with more than 180 members.
The ‘virtual’ board
Gertson said while the NEAFCS board gave itself the nickname The Board That Never Met — in person, that is, due to the COVID-19 pandemic — it was still able to accomplish much during its many virtual meetings throughout the year.
“One of the things we did was start a new mentoring and leadership experience for our members in the association to help grow future leaders,” she said. “Currently, we have 18 mentors and 18 mentees involved in that effort, and Lorrie Coop is serving as one of the mentors. The NEAFCS Leadership Experience is facilitated by one of the committees working with Michelle Wright.”
She said another important advancement was that the association’s Endowment Committee made changes that allowed members to submit grant proposals for projects in their states.
“Maybe the thing I’m proudest of is that during their tenure, each association president gets to choose a charity for which to raise funds,” Gertson said. “I made my charity the NEAFCS Endowment, and we raised more than $10,000 to add for member grants and special projects that benefit communities.”
She said the board also provided networking opportunities for members on the various topics of importance to its members and the people they serve.
“Serving on the NEAFCS board has been one of the greatest experiences of my AgriLife Extension career,” Gertson said. “Through it, I have been able to expand and further develop my career and become friends with numerous colleagues in different states.”
Gerston has also previously served on the NEAFCS executive board as vice president for awards, Southern Region director and president-elect. She is now serving as the association’s immediate past president.
“I definitely could not have done all of this without the support of my Texas friends and administrative support from AgriLife Extension,” she said.
Giving members the resources they need
Wright has just begun serving the second year of her two-year term as the executive board’s vice president for member resources.
“My role has been to increase membership and encourage people to join our national association,” Wright said. “I let people know about the many benefits of membership and how the association can help them both personally and professionally.”
Wright said she also encourages and facilitates discussions among association members to help them in their current jobs and share ideas they can take back and use in their respective communities.
“We developed a quarterly newsletter highlighting opportunities for association affiliates throughout the U.S.,” she said. “Our goal has been to promote and increase communications between NEAFCS and its affiliates.”
Wright said she also worked with another board member, Vanessa Hoines, a family and consumer science agent with North Dakota State University, on the Connecting with Colleagues initiative.
“This initiative has helped us strengthen affiliate interactions and our overall networking system for discussing issues related to ongoing topics such as nutrition, health and wellness, safety, food preservation and helping underserved audiences,” she said.
Wright said her primary goal for her second year on the board will be to “help the association evolve, grow and get bigger and better.”
Regional input and national awareness
Coop, based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Vernon, recently finished her second year of a two-year term as Southern Region director for the NEAFCS board.
“As the Southern Region director, I served as a liaison between the 14 state or territory affiliates in the region and the executive board,” she said. “I communicated with affiliate leadership on what the issues, concerns and needs were in these states, then conveyed those back to the board for consideration. I also promoted and encouraged leadership and member involvement in NEAFCS.”
Coop was named the NEAFCS Educator of the Year in 2018 in recognition of conducting “outstanding educational programs that demonstrate an impact on families.” The award criteria also required she previously receive the Distinguished Service Award and Continued Excellence Award from the association and that she be involved in continued professional improvement activities and professional organizations.
She said one of the most important accomplishments of her second year was to plan and conduct leadership training at the Joint Council of Extension Professionals Extension Leadership Conference.
“I can say without reservation that one of the best things agents can do to enhance their personal and professional development is to join and actively participate in a professional organization like NEAFCS,” Coop said.