What Do You Do?

August 2021

U of MN Extension graphic

By Sara Croymans, Extension Educator, Family Resiliency

When I meet people they often ask what I do or where I work.  When I respond “I am an Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension” people typically ask if I teach classes at the University. I explain that no, I don’t teach classes on campus but that Extension is the outreach arm of the University. We bring resources, research, and education to people through non-formal education in communities across the state.  I share that I work in the Extension Center for Family Development (ECFD) where we teach families and those who serve families to make informed decisions leading to greater health, resilience and well-being.  Our Family Resiliency program area focuses on family relationships and resource management. I find that people better understand my work when I share examples of what I do. Here are a few:

Money Moments Webinar Series

Some ECFD colleagues and I are collaborating with the MN Statewide Family Engagement Center (part of the PACER Center) to plan a Money Moments webinar series for parents across the state. During the first session, held July 21, we engaged with parents to identify financial topics they want to learn more about. This information will be used to design the two remaining webinars scheduled for October 19 & 26; 6:30 - 8:00 pm in English (register @ https://z.umn.edu/MoneyMoments ) and October 21 & 28; 6:30 - 8:00 pm in Spanish (registration link TBD).

Housing Needs Assessment

In an effort to learn more about recent housing issues that individuals and families have been dealing with during and following the pandemic I am part of an ECFD team that is distributing a survey to service providers to gather information. The purpose of the survey is to create an understanding of the housing issues people are facing, to gauge interest in more in-depth conversations regarding housing issues, and to create connections and potential partnerships across organizations within Minnesota to positively impact individuals and families in their housing experiences.

Results of the survey will be shared during two housing conversations on August 17th from 9:00 - 10:30 am and August 18th from 1:00-2:30 pm. Please share the survey with service providers you feel may be interested in participating.

Education with Military Service Members, Families & Providers

Our ECFD provides leadership for the Family Transitions team of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN). The MFLN is a national collaborative project between the Department of Defense and Cooperative Extension. We provide professional development and engagement opportunities for military family service providers across the world on family transition issues. In July our Family Transitions team partnered with Sesame Street to offer the webinar Coming Together with Sesame Street: Resources for Racial Justice. Check out the supporting blog I authored, Use Children’s Literature to Teach about Racism & Social Justice. In August, our team is offering a two part webinar on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Youth Programs: Developing Inclusive Program Structures and Fostering Supportive Adult – Youth Relationships. Continuing Education credits are offered for all webinars.

A few weeks ago a colleague and I met with the MN National Guard Family Program Director and a few of her staff. We discussed military family issues and potential strategies for collaborating. Earlier this year several ECFD Educators provided education for service members in a MN Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Course.

Family Resiliency Webinars

In 2020, when COVID forced Extension to delay delivering programs in-person, I worked with a colleague to coordinate (and facilitate several) ECFD webinars for folks across the state. This project involved adapting family resiliency education from an in-person model to a virtual model utilizing social messaging and online teaching. Webinar topics included:

  • Managing finances (adjusting to suddenly reduced income, budgeting, scams, preparing finances for a disaster, improving credit history, etc.)
  • Disaster preparedness (preparing finances, insurance, grab & go file, food during a disaster and building a kit, etc.)
  • Finding balance (mindful eating, quick meal ideas, rural stress & ambiguous loss, mental well-being in the midst of isolation, advance care planning, etc.)
  • Financial Parenting (how much is too much?, using children’s book to teach financial capability, strategies for kids to discover how money works, etc.)
  • Feeding Your Child (first foods, choosey eaters, kids in the kitchen, exploring new choices, and on their own)

Several webinars were offered in Spanish. A total of 77 webinars were offered in five rounds from May 21, 2020 through June 17, 2021.  Cumulatively, over 6,500 individuals registered with a total of 3,359 participants.

A follow-up survey was emailed to over 2,000 webinar registrants from the first two rounds of webinars (May – July 2020) with 161 responses. Over 50% of the survey participants indicated this was their first encounter with the UMN Extension programming. This is significant as we successfully engaged a substantial number of new participants.

Forty five percent of survey participants said they felt more confident in their ability to cope with financial struggles. Another 58% expressed that they have a deeper understanding of people’s mental health struggles during this time. Survey participants provided positive feedback on the webinars:

  • “The facilitators were really good about keeping attendees connected to content (asking us to post in chat and answering short pop-up surveys), and they were good about answering questions. They were welcoming and worked to put attendees at ease. They showed appreciation for contributions and treated responses as valuable. I would attend another webinar facilitated by them!”
  • “Thank you for holding these webinars! It is nice to be ‘together’ with others in a time when so many of us are isolated, and especially so when we are dealing with some difficult situations. Struggles are made easier when you know you are not alone!”

A new round of webinars will be held September through December 2021.  Topics will be grouped into several series:

  • Identity theft and scams (child identity theft, financial scams, family financial exploitation of older adults);
  • Returning to a new normal after COVID (adapting to changing income and resources, youth mental health first aid, building resilience)
  • Getting to know our neighbors (Halal foods, military families in MN communities, traditional native games, using Native stories to teach financial capability, rural stress)
  • Health & Nutrition (menu planning, blanching & freezing, saving money when feeding your family, diets debunked)

Several webinars will again be offered in Spanish. Watch for webinar details and registration information in our ECFD Family News e-Newsletter. You can register for Family News here. Also, find listings of all UMN Extension workshops and webinars on our courses webpage.

So, this is a snap shot of what I do

I thoroughly enjoy my work with Extension because it is so diverse. In addition to teaching and creating effective educational programs I appreciate collaborating with community partners to meet community needs. If you were to ask me next month what I do, I will most likely have many more examples to share!

In addition to registering for our ECFD Family News e-Newsletter connect with us via social media:

This article was written by Sara Croymans, MEd, AFC, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, Family Resiliency. She can be reached at [email protected] or 320-226-6052.