Editor: Extension Master Gardeners of Arlington apparently are not valued as essential volunteers by the Arlington County government, as the recent recommendation to cut the Arlington Extension Office budget by 50 percent has demonstrated.
This proposal could devastate the future of 228 volunteers and their Extension Master Gardener Coordinator and the Extension Agent and others, whose positions could be eliminated.
As an Extension Master Gardener myself, I am shocked, hurt and humiliated by this decision.
Without full funding, the Arlington Virginia Cooperative Extension programs will be irrevocably disrupted.
Simply put, VCE volunteers who provided 42,716 hours service to the community, valued at $1,215,685 in 2020, would cease to exist.
Let me focus on one program close to my heart, now in jeopardy: 4-H.
A retired teacher, I volunteer enthusiastically and devotedly to 4-H programming, led by Caitlin Verdu, Arlington’s 4-H Agent. During 2020-21, much has been said about the dire impact COVID has catapulted into our lives. Much loss has been endured by many. However, there have been unspoken heroes who have splashed into the forefront to rescue us, to restore us, and to renew us.
In my opinion, the emotional and educational loss for our children has been tantamount. Thus, in our Extension Master Gardener corner of the gardening world, we have acted to “rescue, restore and renew” the kids – through 4-H. 4-H leadership adapted several initiatives to online experiences.
One teen club is now running a “virtual” version of “how to get your first job.” Participants are guided on résumé revision and practice responding to interview questions. The series concludes with volunteers facilitating a formal (if virtual) mock interview for the job of the teen’s choice. Also, a virtual 4-H summer camp for 71 campers occurred with great success.
More recently, a virtual outreach to the afterschool elementary programs through AHC was created. This initiative was tagged “4-H Nature in a Box.” Extension Master Gardeners offered to write curriculum and to co-host virtually with the 4-H Agent.
The curriculum covered various topics, like insects, pollinators, leaves, seed and stem plantings, birds and body movements in the garden. Nature in a Box concluded its program in mid-December. An evaluation of the program indicated positive success for this volunteer effort.
This microcosmic portrait of one program can be multiplied many, many times to prove the viability and worth of Extension volunteer initiatives and commitment. And yet, this budget-defunding proposal can cut it to the ground and rip it out by the roots.
I don’t understand why the County Board would even consider such a decision. It makes no sense.
Think about Arlington without the volunteers who create, sustain and educate our community about the natural world. I just don’t get it; do you?
Anne Reed, Arlington
Reed is an Arlington Master Gardener.
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