Purdue Extension a Leader in National Military Families Plan

By: Contributor Last Updated: February 9, 2011

Purdue Extension's expertise in helping military families is a key ingredient in President Obama's new initiative to increase support to families of deployed military members.

Purdue University was selected to coordinate a program that brings together at least 30 land-grant universities and the Extension system to provide family and youth development programs to military families nationwide.

Obama on Jan. 24 announced the governmentwide initiative Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment. The initiative includes a partnership between the departments of Defense and Agriculture, which will use the resources of its Cooperative Extension Service to carry out some of the nearly 50 programs in the report.

The partnership brings together "some of the best educational programming of Cooperative Extension and the land-grant university system to support the needs of military families across the nation," said Renée McKee, who will manage and provide other leadership for the program to be delivered in all 50 states. She is assistant director and program leader of Purdue Extension's 4-H Youth Development, part of a network that engages more than 20,000 young people in 4-H programs on military bases worldwide.

"It only makes sense that a system such as the Cooperative Extension Service, with a presence in nearly each county across the U.S., would step up to provide educational programming and support for military families," she said.

Purdue will provide leadership to the overall partnership of land-grant universities and award subcontracts for programs. McKee, for example, selected 56 sites in 12 states for Adventure Camps for military youth ages 14-18. They will offer activities such as dogsledding, skiing, backpacking, rock climbing, distance bicycling and whitewater rafting. The camps, to begin in May, will be conducted where there are existing 4-H camps, including at national parks and forests.

"This builds on the work that 4-H has done for years," McKee said.

The military families initiative is especially important to Indiana, which has no active-duty military base but since 2001 has had some of the highest numbers of deployed National Guard and Reserve members in the nation, said Chuck Hibberd, director of Purdue Extension.

"Families of these deployed service members do not have access to a military base, so using our national Extension network just makes good sense," Hibberd said. "I am thrilled that Purdue Extension was selected for this important role."

Key objectives are to improve communities' ability to support military families, increase professional development and workforce development opportunities, and expand and strengthen programs in family readiness and youth development.

Purdue oversees the Military Community, Family and Youth Extension Program that supports health literacy, basic meal preparation, community gardening, youth fitness, child care quality, spousal employment, personal work life skills and other educational priorities.

Included in the initiative is the Military Extension Internship Program, headed by Purdue, for college students who work in child and youth development, education or recreation at military bases worldwide. Seventy-eight students so far have worked as interns, and the military now employs some as a result of their internships.

Purdue also was chosen because of the work of its Military Family Research Institute. Founded in 2000 to conduct research about and for military families, it now also develops and delivers outreach programs for the military and civilian groups supporting military families.

Institute director Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth often advises the White House on programs for military families. She was among White House guests when Obama announced the initiative.

"The commander-in-chief promised the troops that while they are overseas fighting for the country they love, their country is taking care of the people they love," Wadsworth said. "As an advocate who tries to work every day to make sure that military families are well-understood and well-served, I am very heartened to see this."