SENIOR ADULTS AND THE UF/IFAS EXTENSION MISSION – A SUCCESS STORY
Situation: One of Florida’s greatest untapped natural resources is senior citizens; 19.4% of the state’s population is age 65+ and growing. In 2016, 80% of Florida Master Gardeners (n=1014) responding to a survey reported being age 60 or older. With increased life expectancy and healthier lives at older ages, a growing percentage of retired people are choosing to work in their later years. Bringing a wealth of experience and maturity to the work force, older adults can be a great resource for Extension projects. An older adult worker will also benefit from the personal knowledge development, improved cognitive function, lower risk of depression, and the increased physical activity which can help deter several chronic diseases. Methods: In this case study, senior adult SL was first involved with Extension as a Master Gardener volunteer in 2010, managing our two county plant clinics. In her third year as a volunteer, she won the Master Gardener State Award for Personal Communications. In 2011, SL was hired as an Other Personal Services (OPS) employee as clerk for the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Coleman contract, an Extension vocational horticulture training program at the regional federal prison. With Extension’s leadership and encouragement, SL earned her Green Industries Best Management Practices (GIBMP) Instructor credential and the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP). In 2014, she was appointed the horticulture instructor for FCC Coleman Low security facility. Results: Her contributions to teaching methods, curriculum content, and working with the Bureau of Prisons in an environment that presents tremendous challenges have helped make this a highly successful program. Certification passing rates consistently exceed 98%. SL reports loving her job and sharing her knowledge about our precious natural resources, teaching students the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Principles and helping the disadvantaged inmate students with a fresh start. She was invited to be a collaborator on a rewrite of the FCHP manual and has earned her Senior GIBMP Instructor designation. In 2017, SL was awarded the FNGLA Outstanding Educator Award. Conclusion: SL came to Extension as a Master Gardener volunteer in 2010 and has grown to promote Extension’s mission as an award winning educator. She is furthering her development with the benefit of UF Employee Education Program pursuing an A.S. Degree program at 67 years of age. Her goals include completion of a B.S. Degree in UF Environmental Science. Often seen as the “disposable generation” or “out to pasture”, senior adults are a great potential resource to help further Extension’s mission.