Monday, May 20, 2024

4-H goes back to mobile roots…for now

Staff Writer | February 22, 2024 1:06 AM

POST FALLS — After three years of operating out of a suite at the University of Idaho Extension in Post Falls, the local 4-H extension program will be undergoing a transition as it looks for a new facility.

The building the extension team operates out of was initially leased through American Rescue Plan Act funds. Though the program could financially hold onto the suite a little while longer, it was decided to begin the search now before the move became a necessity.

With classes for kids about survival, public speaking, robotics and even Microsoft Word, 4-H extension educator Teresa Balderrama said many folks don’t realize the full scope of the program’s local offerings.

“A lot of people say ‘I didn’t know 4-H did that,'" Balderrama said. "It’s so much more than cows or cookies anymore."

U of I Extension Northern District Director Rusty Gosz said everyone from the families to Kootenai County officials have been supportive of the decision to transition the program to a new location now rather than waiting and being left with whatever is available.

“In the beginning, everyone realized it was a temporary opportunity," Gosz said. "The center itself is serving 300 kids a week and it just exploded into a success story that we were all really excited about, but didn’t necessarily see coming.” 

Calling it “uncharted territory,” Balderrama hopes the program can strike gold a second time and find a physical space that meets the community need demonstrated by the popularity of the program. 

“That’s the goal to find somewhere to continue what we’re doing," Balderrama said. "Most of our 4-H program operates without a homebase, so we’re kind of going back to our roots in that respect.” 

The high cost of the real estate market is a concern, but Gosz said he is meeting with county leaders next week to discuss options.  

“There has been a little bit of a fear of, ‘Is what’s going on sustainable in the budget?’" Gosz said. "We’ve finally hit the end of where the grant dollars turned out. We’ve just been trying to maintain what we were doing. It’s just a little bit of a reset and so we’re just asking for some patience.” 

The big picture for the future space is to find something to house the entire county extension effort, including forestry, nutrition, family consumer sciences and the master gardener program.

“I would love to be back more in Coeur d’Alene, just because so many families are commuting to the Post Falls office," Gosz said. "If we could identify a place and have the funding work out for us, and if we can do it closer, that would be a win-win."

In the meantime, business owners and community members are coming forward with suggestions since the news spread among 4-H families, and pop-up classes will keep kids learning. Some classes may even head outdoors when spring weather arrives.

“It’s definitely something we’ve found our community needs," Balderrama said. "It’s kind of cool to see them all come together in a learning environment that’s an enrichment program outside of the school. We can make just about anything work."

Mentoring is key to 4-H’s enrichment program, so keeping the master gardening program under the same roof to provide educational classes to the 4-H community is something worth preserving for Gosz.

“The more we’re together, the stronger we are,” Gosz said. 

    Exterior of the University of Idaho Extension in Post Falls