4-H Coordinator Waita Karcher shows the manual for the new Operation Military Kids program that she will head up in southwest Missouri.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Nov. 14, 2008) — Staff members of the Pulaski County Extension Center held an open house Thursday at the county courthouse to introduce new programs and explain existing programs for the extension center.
About 50 to 60 people, mostly courthouse employees, attended the open house, staff members said.
Sara Traub, the center’s human development and family services specialist who was hired in 2006, and Waita Karcher, who has headed up Pulaski County’s 4-H programs for 15 years, explained the role of the extension center in food and nutrition programs, the Master Gardeners Club, soil testing, and 4-H programs for youth.
Originally organized to help rural farmers learn better agricultural techniques and improve rural family life, extension centers maintain those core missions but have added related functions to serve a less-rural population. Nel Yates, a volunteer member of the Master Gardeners Club, said her programs have become especially popular with Fort Leonard Wood families who don’t have enough land to farm and won’t be in the area long enough for semi-permanent flower gardens, but still want to improve the landscaping of their on-post quarters or off-post property.
“On the street every week, wherever I go, people know that I am with the master gardeners and can answer their questions,” Yates said. “They share their plant issues and we try to help.”
Yates said several people asked her during the open house about the soil testing services of the Extension Center that can help gardeners know what type of fertilizer or other nutrients they need to add to the soil to make their plants grow.
“People come in and ask, ‘Why won’t this grow?’ and often we can help them with a soil test,” said staff member Ombica Reeves.
After 15 years with Pulaski County 4-H that began when her husband was an officer assigned to the post, Karcher will be moving on to new duties for military families. Extension Center officials hope to have her replacement named early next year.
It hasn’t been widely announced, but Karcher accepted a new position on Oct. 1 serving as Operation Military Kids coordinator for southwest Missouri. That includes Fort Leonard Wood but is much broader and intended to continue her current role with Fort Leonard Wood’s 4-H program and expand it to providing services to military families throughout her region of the state with a special focus on National Guard and reserve component families.
For many years, Karcher’s position has been half-time with the Pulaski County Extension Center assigned to 4-H programs and half-time with the military 4-H program. Karcher said the extension councils for Pulaski County and Laclede County plan to combine their funding to hire a single full-time person to coordinate 4-H in both counties.
The new position’s duties haven’t been fully worked out yet, Karcher said, though her office will continue to be in the Extension Center in the courthouse and not on post.
“Things are changing minute-by-minute,” Karcher said. “Operation Military Kids really started because there were so many National Guard families living in our communities and they are suddenly becoming active-duty military, and don’t always live anywhere close to a military installation. They are sometimes the only military kids in their school.”
The new program’s duties will include training middle school and high school students to go into schools and explain what it’s like to be a military dependant, and help fellow students, Karcher said. Fifteen people have already been trained for that program, she said, and plans are underway to hold special summer camps in four locations where many National Guard and Army Reserve units have deployed which will offer various activities to students including community emergency response training for natural disasters.
Another part of her work includes assembling “hero packs” —backpacks filled with school supplies and comfort items like teddy bears that are given to children whose parents are deploying, and include a letter written by another military child. Donations of money or items are being accepted, Karcher said, and members of family readiness groups or other organizations that would like to help pack the “hero packs” are welcome to contact her office.
“A hero pack is for children who are taking on extra responsibilities once their dad or mom is deployed,” Karcher said.
Karcher will continue her work with military 4-H clubs and use existing support networks of Child and Youth Services as well as family readiness groups to find military families who don’t live near Fort Leonard Wood.
“The most difficult thing is knowing where these families are — there’s not a lot of information available because of security reasons unless people contact us,” Karcher said. “On Fort Leonard Wood for the most part I work through CYS, but I am also available for training outside of that. We want military kids off-post to have opportunities as well.”