Reaching Alaskans

Longtime StrongWomen volunteer Liz Potter leads a practice at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla. Photo by Edwin Remsberg
Longtime StrongWomen volunteer Liz Potter leads a practice at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla. Photo by Edwin Remsberg

Extending knowledge through volunteers, distance delivery and hands-on training

With funding constraints, Extension has to be creative about how it reaches Alaskans.

One way it does this is by teaching volunteers to offer training in their communities. Soldotna agent Linda Tannehill is one of 11 StrongWomen instructors nationwide who is qualified to train other instructors for the strength-training program. She has trained more than 400 instructors in Alaska since 2005, including 21 last year in Homer and Wasilla.

Volunteers lead StrongWomen, or Strong Seniors, classes at senior centers, libraries, churches and other community places in the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Soldotna, Bethel, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak and Southeast. The program, which originated at Tufts University, promotes strength, muscle mass and bone density.

Fairbanks agent Leslie Shallcross trains others to offer classes that help Alaskans live with ongoing health conditions. During the past 10 years, she has trained more than 400 leaders through a chronic disease self-management program and, for the last three years, a diabetes self-management program. During 2017, trainees led a series of six classes in Ketchikan, Homer, Bethel, Anchorage, Wasilla, Talkeetna and Chugiak. New trainees will take the program to Cordova, Willow, North Pole, Kotzebue and Fairbanks.

Through the Master Gardener program, agents around the state provide 40 hours of intensive horticultural training and participants commit to 40 hours of volunteer time teaching others or volunteering with an organization.

The university’s videoconference network allows agents to lead training in other districts or to reach several communities at the same time. For instance, Extension offered state-mandated food safety management trainings five times in 2017 and reached 100 people in 18 Alaska communities.

Tannehill’s StrongWomen training in Wasilla was her first by videoconference. It worked, she said, because Palmer agent Julie Cascio has helped lead the training for years, and she demonstrated exercises while Tannehill observed the trainees from afar and led the lecture portion of the one-day training.

“I could actually watch their form by camera,” she said.

In addition to offering distance education, Extension continues to provide the face-to-face programming that is its hallmark.