Extension Delivers Tools to Build Resilience Across Maryland
The food and toilet paper shortages, the changes to the ways we live and work, the modifications we’ve made for schools and education. Everything about the pandemic has caused us all to evaluate the ways that we are individually and collectively resilient—how well we survive and bounce back from a crisis.
Building the resilience concept into UMD Extension (UME) programming, educators are creating new tools, guides, and educational opportunities to work with Marylanders, helping them to manage stress and create resiliency in their personal lives, their communities, and for their businesses.
“When an event comes along that’s a stressor, to be able to bounce back from that—equally to where you were, or in some cases, better—that’s resilience, it also means…how do you position yourself to handle potential future risk?”
-Bonnie Braun, professor emerita, retired state specialist for UME
Braun’s guidebook, Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience, developed in conjunction with Maria Pippidis, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, provides the tools educators need to create interdisciplinary programs that look at not only families and farms, but also at how they interconnect with the greater community, each affecting one another.
“We know what the situation was like with the debt farmers were carrying before COVID-it was being compared to the farm crisis of the 1980s. When COVID hit and the supply chain broke down, those things had a significant impact on farmers,” said Jesse Ketterman, financial literacy educator with UME. “COVID has just compounded the situations that farmers were already dealing with.”
While creating resilience is the end goal, getting to a place where individuals, families, and even businesses can adopt new practices to improve their well-being is also a challenge. “A recent study found that when farmers were going through a major crisis, they were unable to adopt new or different agricultural practices, even those that might get them out of it-because they’re having such a physical, mental, and emotional reaction to the crisis,” said Braun.
The difficulty in forming new habits during a time of stress is not unique to farms, and has been demonstrated in many areas. Dhruti Patel, UME Family and Consumer Science educator in Wicomico County, also saw this mirrored in participants in her nutrition programming.
“A wonderful woman reached out to me and said that she is a single parent with three kids, and the last thing she has the time or energy to think about is putting nutritious food on a plate.”
“That was a huge realization to me because I was under the assumption I was helping them,” Patel said. “They were not ready for the nutrition information yet there were more basic needs that needed to be met.”
Patel’s interest in stress management led her to evidence based mindfulness programs and techniques which she began to incorporate into her programs. However, she also wanted to provide that information to her students and other people who were interested in teaching mindfulness for personal stress relief.
“There is a plethora of information on types of mindfulness and meditative practice, but there are none which take you from A-to-Z of the understanding, applicability, and theory,” Patel said. She, along with Amy Rhodes, 4-H youth development educator, and Erin Jewell, UME nutrition educator, developed the Mindfulness Activity Guide for Adults as a tool for helping people use awareness as a therapeutic technique in their everyday lives.
“The foundation of this book is in mental health and self-care. Self-care will help you improve your mental and physical health,” said Rhodes, a co-author on the guide.
Mindfulness and practices that serve the purpose of helping to alleviate individual stress are as important as big-picture resilience thinking for systems and communities. “The concept of mental health is not just about crisis management. This whole concept of resiliency goes along with it,” said Ketterman. “There are traits of resilient individuals-being connected is one of them.”
UME’s resilience toolkit expanded in 2020 with the strategic hire of Alex Chan as the organization’s new mental and behavioral health specialist. Chan comes from the 4-H world, where he worked with high school youth on dating violence prevention, identity development, and hands-on life skills programming.
In his new role, he works one-on-one with and offers group classes for professionals in healthcare, agribusiness, youth and youth development, community groups, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits. Chan’s scope of influence and impact is impressively wide.
“My goal is to be responsive to the needs of Marylanders statewide, with program content based on the unique needs identified within communities…”Alex Chan UME'S NEW MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SPECIALIST
“By participating in workshops tailored to each group’s unique needs, participants stand to gain new skills and the confidence to use them to support their own mental health, as well as the mental health of people around them. Professionals also have the opportunity to gain on-going consultation and support from the specialist after the conclusion of specific workshops.”
What is the best way to begin working with this suite of resilience educators?
Contact them directly through AGNR’s directory to discuss your programmatic or training needs.
By Laura Wormuth and Graham Binder