Smith leads Co-op Extension
WINTON – As is often the case, the best road to travel in life is one of familiarity.
As things turned out for Franklin County native Crystal Smith, she has followed in the footsteps of her late grandfather and now calling Hertford County as home.
Smith, Franklin County’s 4-H agent since 2003, is the new Cooperative Extension Director (CED) in Hertford County. Her appointment, effective last month, was recently announced by Hertford County Manager Loria Williams and Dr. Joe Zublena, interim director, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Smith succeeds Reba Green-Holley, former interim extension director for Hertford County, who continues her duties as Gates County’s CED.
“I’m excited about being here in Hertford County,” Smith said. “When all the announcements came out about Cooperative Extension vacancies statewide, there were a wealth of opportunities. I was told not to put myself in a box and wait for something close to home. I put my name out there.”
As fate would have it, Smith saw the opening in Hertford County. When she pulled out a map to see the exact lay of the land she noted that Ahoskie was located in Hertford County.
“My grandfather worked at a lumber mill in Ahoskie back before I was born,” she recalled. “I remember my parents talking about Ahoskie. My grandfather would leave home on Monday morning, live and work in Ahoskie all week, and then come back to Louisburg for the weekend. When I came for a visit, I liked what I saw, plus it’s within two hours of home.”
For Smith, rising through the ranks of Cooperative Extension has been worth the wait.
Launching her career in 1996 as a 4-H summer program assistant in Franklin County, Smith has worked as a 4-H extension agent for Cooperative Extension in Franklin, Granville and Warren counties.
“The only thing I new about 4-H before joining Cooperative Extension was livestock,” she said. “When I found out that you could work at that job as a professional for 12 months out of each year, I was excited. Through that job I was able to do what I enjoy and that’s working with people. Now as a CED I get a chance to continue that…working with people.
“The title of the job may have changed, but what I enjoy the most has not changed,” she added. “I now have a chance to lead a staff of very qualified professionals who are quite capable of meeting the needs of the citizens here in Hertford County.”
Among the things on her “to do” list is to educate the public of what types of services Cooperative Extension offers.
“We stem from two land grant universities – North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University,” she said. “Our job is educate the citizens in areas of need…for example, we have someone on staff that works with small farmers; we have someone in Family Consumer Sciences, covering topics such as parenting, healthy lifestyles for adults and youth, career planning, financial planning; we have Expanded Food, Nutrition Education Programs (EFNEP), designed to work with low income families, educating them on how to prepare nutritional dishes and, of course, 4-H Youth Development (ages 5-18).”
Smith said she is in the process of developing programs that she felt were a priority.
“One of the greatest needs we see here in Hertford County is obesity…we have programs in place to educate youth and adults in that area,” she said. “Another is agriculture; working with our farmers here. We have a vacant position in Ag with the retirement of Byron Simonds. We see that as a need to fill, but we’re waiting on a budget. We’re utilizing Paul (Smith), the Ag Agent over in Gates County (Co-op Extension) to fill that void for now.”
She continued, “We feel we’re the best kept secret, but we don’t want it to be that way…we want to put our name and face out there so more people will know what we’re all about. We want more people to utilize our services, that’s one of my goals.”
Another goal for Smith is addressing the rise in the number of people diagnosed with diabetes, especially those with juvenile diabetes.
“Children will eat what their parents purchase, so we’re now planning an educational program that educates the parents on developing healthy eating habits and what they need to buy at the supermarket. It’s all about developing a healthy and nutritional diet,” she said.
Smith added that she wanted to meet with local public/private school officials to see if they have developed or learn of their plans to address healthy eating habits among the students.
“It’s working at other school districts,” she noted. “Plus the school districts are working from within to develop wellness plans for their teachers and staff.”
Smith inherits a staff that, like her, are new to Hertford County.
“Three members of our current staff have been here two years or less,” she noted. “Cliff Sutton, our Small Farms Agent, has been here less than two years. Gina Bonsu, a Program Assistant for EFNEP, is relatively new and Sherry Channell started Aug. 2 as our 4-H Agent. As you can see we have a fairly young staff.”
Stephanie Parker-Helmkamp, Area Agent for Family Consumer Science, is the veteran staff member, while Melanie Storey and Becky Castello are long-time secretaries at the local office.
That office, located at 301 West Tyron Street, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Extension agents are available nights and weekends. More information is available by calling 358-7822.
Smith, who graduated in 1986 from Louisburg High School, earned an associate degree in accounting from Hardbarger Junior College, a bachelor’s degree in business education from St. Augustine’s College and a master’s degree in agricultural education from N.C. A&T State University. She has been active in professional groups, including the N.C. Association of Extension 4-H Agents and Epsilon Sigma Phi professional development association for extension. She also participated in N.C. State University’s Pathways leadership program and Leadership Granville.
Prior to joining Cooperative Extension, she was a Kindergarten teacher assistant for the Franklin County School System.
She is the daughter of Dorothy Smith and the step-daughter of Thurman Johnson.
“We are excited to welcome Crystal Smith to Hertford County,” said Travis Burke, District Director for Cooperative Extension’s Northeast District, which includes Hertford County. “Crystal brings more than 14 years of leadership development and community service experience in her tenure as a seasoned 4-H agent and active community volunteer. She brings skills from her work in other counties that will fit well in Hertford County.”