There's a new face at the Pulaski County Extension Office.
Jennifer Cole is in her third week as the 4-H Youth Development Agent for the University of Kentucky-affiliated community organization.
With 4-H camp getting underway by the end of her first week and day camps scheduled for much of this week, Cole hasn't had much of an opportunity to slowly immerse herself into her new position. But that's ok, because she's no stranger to the Cooperative Extension Service.
Cole comes to the local Extension office from UK, where she served as the STEPS Administrative Support Associate in Extension's District 5 (Lincoln Trail/Lake Cumberland area) office. Having gotten married last year, she currently makes her home in Lancaster.
The Lincoln County native first got involved in 4-H at an early age with some encouragement from her mother, who had also been active in the program. "I started out with our elementary school club," Cole recalled, explaining how she joined at age 9 and participated in the Kentucky 4-H Country Ham project.
That project began in the late 1990's with less than 40 4-Hers -- growing to over 775 4-Hers from more than 65 Kentucky counties. It begins in the cold winter months of January and ends in August at the Kentucky State Fair, where the hams are judged by members of the Kentucky Country Ham Producers and the students present a 3 to 5 minute speech on what they've learned about food production and how the country ham fits into Kentucky's food heritage. Cole said the experience was always a good one for her, so she would like to help local students get involved as well.
"I was involved with our Teen Club; I did several conferences [and county fair submissions]," Cole continued. "I did three interstate exchange trips to Florida, Minnesota and Missouri through our Teen Club. I've always been involved in 4-H Camp -- continuing to volunteer as an adult right up until I got here."
Cole was in college when she decided to pursue a career as a 4-H agent. "My first year [at college], I bounced back and forth between a couple of majors and then I got on camp staff [2013-14] and thought, 'You know what, it would be kinda cool to be an agent and make 4-H your life.'"
From there, Cole chose the major that best fit with 4-H and other nonprofit career opportunities. She graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2015 with a Recreation and Park Administration degree.
"A lot of my college work focused on 4-H because I knew that's what I wanted to do," Cole said, adding that she interned with Mercer County's 4-H program which fulfilled a degree requirement giving her more experience with the program. "It worked out well that way."
While she is still in the process of meeting people and determining what projects will work best for Pulaski County, Cole is already immensely pleased with the local participation in 4-H Camp this summer.
"We took 90 participants," Cole said. "That included adults, teens and campers. It was Pulaski's largest camping group that they've ever taken, so that was a big accomplishment for our county…
"Everyone seemed to have a good time," she continued, adding she's like to bump the camper numbers even higher as well as volunteers. "We camped with Clinton, Cumberland and Casey counties. They were all great; the other agents were very supportive."
As are Cole's co-workers at the Pulaski County Extension Office. She noted that T.J. Adkins has particularly been a big help because he served six years as 4-H Youth Development Agent prior to switching to his current position as Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.
"The whole office has been extremely supportive -- pitching in and helping out wherever they can, and filling in the blanks for me if I don't know the answers to questions," Cole said.
Cole knows Pulaski County is big. The 4-H program includes monthly visits to 13 local elementary schools in addition to activities with more than 10 community clubs.
"I can't wait to meet everybody and see what they're interested in," Cole said.