We Grow Community Spirit
The Triangle Nonprofit & Volunteer Leadership Center’s Adrienne Clark and Kim Shaw visited our office in June to present the “Community Spirit Award” to members of the Durham County COVID-19 Food Security Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of over 40 food distribution partners, social service agency representatives, County employees, volunteers, and many others.
Durham Cooperative Extension Director Donna Rewalt co-led the COVID-19 Food Security Task Force with colleagues from the Durham County Department of Public Health and Durham County’s Strategic Initiatives division. The group met weekly to solve problems, address resource needs, and look at systems changes to improve food access and supply. Through this work, N.C. Cooperative Extension of Durham County has led the management and distribution of more than one million County dollars to community food security initiatives.
Durham County’s new Food Security Coordinator, Mary Oxendine, will work with the Task Force and others to develop a vision for a sustainable, equitable food system as Durham County continues to fight food insecurity during the pandemic and beyond.
We Grow Community Gardens
If you’ve been to the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) Priess-Steele property lately, you may notice that things are looking a little greener. That is because the community, along with four others across Durham, has been hard at work building and growing gardens.
Community members from the Preiss-Steele, Hoover Road, and Club Boulevard DHA apartment complexes, as well as the Maple Court Veterans Home and CAARE have partnered with Duke University’s Office of Sustainability, the Southwest Durham Rotary, Durham CAN, and Durham County Cooperative Extension to install new garden beds.
The projects started amidst the pandemic during one of Rebecca ‘Becky’ Hoeffler’s visits to the Preiss-Steele community to deliver vegetables. Rebecca, the Communications Coordinator for Duke University’s Office of Sustainability, had become known as the ‘veggie girl’ by the residents, who expressed their desires to grow their own fruits and veggies.
Among these residents was Kim Wicks, who shared that the building had been discussing the idea of having a community garden for years. “We would have monthly meetings about things that we would like to see happen so that tenants become more active and involved in things in the community. It’s something I kind of always wanted to do. Because there is so much space, there is an opportunity for anyone in the building who is interested, even if they just want to put a pot out there or something.”
After hearing these resident’s dreams, Becky reached out to Bobby Gallagher at Durham CAN for facilitation support and to Durham County Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Agent Cheralyn Berry for gardening expertise. The group connected with residents who were interested in forming gardening clubs at each site and began meeting and planning.
When the first garden was ready to be installed, Cheralyn worked with volunteers to fashion beds that are accessible to gardeners of all ages and abilities and delivered them to the different sites. The first work days at each new garden were times of excitement and learning.
Kim shared, “I was there from the first day on. I helped put worms in the garden for the first time in my life! I said, ‘Let me do it! This is my first time!’ I planted a whole bunch of plants and I also fertilized the beds. I got my hands dirty! It felt good!”
As the gardens continue to grow, Cooperative Extension will sustain our technical support to the gardeners. The group hopes to support other DHA and non-profits in starting their own gardens. Cheralyn shared, “These gardens create a public space that people can enjoy and come together in. They help connect folks to their food sources, enrich health, and build community. It is an honor for us to be a part of these communities in this way!”
We Grow Youth Leaders
On May 21st Durham County Cooperative Extension's 4-H Agent, Mac Hulbert, held a virtual awards and achievement night to commemorate 4H accomplishments in 2020 and 2021. Although the event was online, families were still able to celebrate with a special dinner. Fifty-four parents and children picked up fajita and taco kits before the event and enjoyed the meals during the ceremony.
Awards were given for Leadership Skills, Enthusiasm, and Participation as well as to leading Teen Counselors and 4-H Representatives. 4-H members also won gift cards to local Durham businesses for participating in online competitions. Adult volunteers who went above and beyond in implementing new programming to adapt to COVID restrictions were recognized for their individual contributions.
Mac shared his pride in the students and their club leaders, "This has been a challenging year for youth programming, but I'm so proud of our adult volunteers and youth leaders for rising to the occasion to adapt new programming as we handled this transition. Every program during COVID-19 was a collaborative project, and I believe we've found new ways to engage our community because of it."
We Grow Community Health
Farmworkers across the country have made sure that the rest of us have enough to eat throughout the pandemic. As essential workers, they have continued to log long workdays despite the risk of falling ill from COVID-19. Because many of these workers are immigrants with limited internet access, transportation, or English language skills, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine has been a challenge. This challenge prompted Martha Hamblin, Senior Human Resources Director at Hoffman Nursery, to reach out for assistance.
Durham County Cooperative Extension’s Agriculture Agent Dr. Janel Ohletz was there to answer Martha's call. Janel has served as the county’s farmworker COVID vaccination extension liaison for ensuring vaccine access for agriculture workers. As part of this special assignment, she has worked with farmers and public health professionals to coordinate vaccination events across the county.
Janel coordinated vaccine appointments with Hoffman Nursery in northern Rougemont for farmworkers and their families who live in the area by reaching out to the Montagnard Dega Association of Greensboro, NC and coordinating a vaccine clinic held on April 16 and May 14, 2021 at the Bahama Ruritan Club. The clinic was made possible through collaboration with the UNC Health Mobile Clinic, Durham Health and Human Services, and Piedmont Health, who provided on-site translation services. The event was able to serve 45 individuals and several more were vaccinated through a separate clinic hosted by the Montagnard Dega Association. The onsite interpreters allowed vaccinators to communicate easily with the approximately 34 Spanish speakers at the event.
Trevor Stark, the Production Supervisor for Hoffman Nursery shared about his positive visit to the site. "I had a great experience at the vaccination clinic on Stagville Road in Bahama. It was very easy to get registered. All the staff working the clinic was very friendly and had the whole operation running smoothly. They did an outstanding job communicating across language barriers."
We are proud to be a part of these coordinated efforts to support farmworkers across Durham County.
We Grow Community Change
Each May, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Alliance Health recognizes people and organizations who have made extraordinary efforts to improve life in their communities with Making A Difference Awards. Durham County Cooperative Extension’s Welcome Baby program was honored to receive one of this year’s awards for their extra efforts during the pandemic crisis to help fulfill community needs and offer support to families in the community.
This award has an honor for the whole Welcome Baby team. As Program Manager Patience Mukelabai shared, “Our team came together over the past year to make sure that our families were still being served, despite the pandemic. As the economy stagnated and needs grew, we were able to work with our partners to get diapers, formula, and other supplies into the hands of parents.”
During the fiscal year 2020 Welcome Baby served 4500 families through the Giving Closet and distributed over a million diapers to over 20,000 babies through a partnership with the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.
We Grow Outreach
In June, Durham Cooperative Extension's Agriculture Agent, Dr. Janel Ohletz and 4-H Agent Mac Hulbert were honored to host a table at the Durham Black Farmer’s Market. Throughout the day, Janel demonstrated how to make newspaper pots to the public and gave away dozens of free Mammoth Sunflower seedlings to plant along with Pole Bean sprouts at their base.
Mac reached out to youngsters at the event with a demonstration on the parts of a seed using soaked lima beans cut in half to identify the small root, leaf, and food source. The 4-H program also handed out free mini-hydroponic kits so that families can grow their own rainbow chard plants at home.
The event was a valuable opportunity for agents to share our organization’s larger history and mission, as well as discuss how we hope to specifically serve the Black community of Durham and our commitment to growing equity. It was a privilege to attend as guests and share opportunities and resources with our community.
Kids Voting Durham Volunteer
Linden James, a longtime volunteer with Durham County Cooperative Extension's Kids Voting Durham program, was recently honored with the Key Youth Volunteer of the Year by the Triangle Non-Profit & Volunteer Leadership Center.
Linden has been a volunteer with Kids Voting Durham since 2017 when they were in 7th grade. Linden has run Kids Voting sites during elections and served as a Youth Facilitator at KVD Candidate Forums.
In 2020, Linden stepped to new levels of volunteer commitment and leadership that made a critical difference to Kid Voting Durham's ability to serve youth and schools during a challenging, but civically important, time. As a summer Youth Leadership Volunteer Intern, Linden, as usual, was incredibly productive and effective. Linden worked with their peers to create the highly acclaimed KVD Election Guide for youth, write lesson materials, serve on the social media and design groups, and design a new Instagram election guide. Beyond all of this, they were a constant source of encouragement and feedback for their fellow interns, resulting in higher engagement and productivity for the entire group.
Carolyn Kreuger, our Kids Voting Durham Program Coordinator shared, "Linden is remarkable in their ability to engage young children who are voting for the first time and to make them feel proud and accomplished in their “kid vote”.
Linden’s dedication to volunteer service is remarkable for a person of any age, but particularly notable for someone so young – and who gave their service to Kids Voting while also serving as key volunteer with iNSIDEoUT, GreenToGo Durham, APS & other organizations, all while carrying a full load of advanced coursework for school. Linden is a worthy recipient of this distinguished award.
Durham County Food Security Coordinator
Mary Oxendine joined Durham County as our first County Food Security Coordinator in April 2021. Mary is Native American, a member of the Lumbee and Tuscarora tribes, and grew up on the contemporary lands of the Lumbee Tribe in Robeson County, NC.
Mary has been surrounded by food since she was a child—growing up with numerous fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and family gatherings to butcher hogs. Despite the seeming abundance of food, just a generation ago many in her family were sharecroppers and her one-parent home continued to be materially poor. She learned early how systems can impact our lives and developed a passion for helping make those systems more beneficial and equitable for all.
Mary moved to Durham in 2001 to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and has called the Triangle home ever since. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy she worked with RTI International developing and evaluating health promotion and disease prevention projects, including projects focused on food insecurity. During this time, she developed a passion for food and, in an effort to have more local impact related to food, she decided to go to graduate school. She will complete a Master of Science in Nutrition at Meredith College in 2022. She is excited to use her passions for nutrition and systems change for Durham County Government to work toward a more equitable and sustainable food system.
As Mary notes, “So many things in life connect to food. Food is culture, community, medicine, capital, politics, and so much more. A healthy, local food system spans from seed to waste, empowers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, or BIPOC, communities, builds community capacity, and supports public health and nutrition.”
Mary understands that systemic racial inequities and power imbalances are major driving forces of food insecurity. Leading the way with cultural humility and a justice approach, Mary is excited to partner with local organizations, individuals, and government agencies to work to address the root causes of food insecurity. She is using a community-led approach to deeply understand challenges in the food system and support community-rooted strategies to address those challenges.
Mary lives in Durham with her husband, Miguel, and adorable dog, Gigi. Mary and Miguel love supporting local food enterprises, being outdoors, and discovering new things to do in Durham.