- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - It was a celebration 100 years in the making.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension reached its centennial this year, and for Durham County Cooperative Extension, having its local celebration in the Briggs Avenue Community Garden only seemed fitting, since the county extension wanted to highlight its agriculture history and how it progresses into the future.

“(We are) going to show how the extension, in maintaining this heritage has moved into the present time,” Delphine Sellars, Durham County Extension director said.

The extension has a focus in agriculture, especially 4H programs across the county, and has taken the time to modernize its offerings.

“It’s almost seemed like it’s a natural flow (staying current),” Sellars said. “In order to exist even 100 years, you’ve got to be actively engaged and involved in the community.”

Sellars said extension staff stays actively involved in the county, and is able to come back with ideas for new programs.

“You’ve got to stay relevant, you’ve got to,” Sellars said. “Our goal is not to keep the knowledge to ourselves; it’s to pass it on.”

One program, Project Build, has been around since 2009. The project is a gang prevention and intervention program for young adults aged 12-22 put on through the Durham County extension.

“The program has really grown,” Michelle Young, Project Build director said. In the beginning it was able to assist about 50 youth per year. Now though, Young said the project is helping about 120.

It’s also helped that Project Build staff members have been able to spend time doing outreach to local schools.

“We have a great partnership with the Durham Public Schools,” Young said.

For Young, and other members of Project Build, Durham is a great and supportive community, but many youth are susceptible to becoming involved in gang violence. Because of Project Build’s close connection with 4H, they join together to offer classes for young adults to help them succeed.

“It’s really important to have services to help support those young people (at risk) and help them be successful,” Young said. “Because we need all of our young people to make it through school and find employment in order to help the community flourish.”

Project Build helps student learn to garden at the Briggs Avenue Community Garden.

Santos Flores helps with the youth gardening initiative. He’s been with the extension for five years.

For Flores, seeing the creativity and energy of the kids when it comes to learning is one of the greatest parts of working with the youth in Durham County. He also has a passion for turning outdoor spaces into learning spaces for the youth.

“My thoughts is, the more positive experiences they have outside as young adults, the more positive experiences they’ll want to create for themselves (later),” he said.

For Flores, celebrating 100 years shows how invested the government and public universities are in the cooperative extensions.

“There are a lot of different partners here, for me, the idea of cooperation and supporting each other is essential,” he said.

As Sellars recognized those that helped shape the Durham County Cooperative over the past 100 years, she also looked to the future.

“That we continue to maintain our relevance,” Sellars said. “That the extension continues to be involved in the community, that we continue to engage the people, and that the process that has kept us going for this 100 years, we continue it.”


Information from: The Herald-Sun, https://www.herald-sun.com

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