People don’t send thank-you notes much anymore. These days, a thumbs-up or a smile emoji is the standard way of expressing our approval and gratitude for a job well done. And I must admit that sending out handwritten thank-you cards to everyone who was nice enough to think of me on the holidays can seem more like a chore than a joy.
But then you receive a sincere letter of thanks from someone you barely know, and your heart is filled with gratitude and humility—even if the letter is addressed to someone else.
In mid-December, we received a scanned copy of a letter sent to UF President Kent Fuchs. “Dear President Fuchs,” it began, “I would like to commend you on the caliber of the UF staff.”
What followed was a five-page, handwritten letter describing how UF/IFAS staff and faculty came to the aid of a member of the Extension family after Hurricane Michael.
Scott and Sadie Jones live in Youngstown, in Bay County, which received some of the worst damage when Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday, October 10. In the aftermath of the storm, the Jones family faced some good news and some bad news.
The bad news was that hurricane winds decimated their timber crop. It’s estimated that the area’s timber industry suffered more than $1.29 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael, and that includes many families who lease their land out to timber companies to help pay the bills. The good news was that the trees absorbed most of the damage, sparing their home. Many homes and structures closer to the coast were not so lucky. The bad news was that downed trees were blocking their driveway, making it impossible for them to leave in case of an emergency. Scott and Sadie both have health issues, so clearing their driveway was something they couldn’t do alone.
Fortunately, they still had cell service. Before and during the storm, they had been texting with Laurie Osgood, a family and consumer sciences agent with UF/IFAS Extension Gadsden County. Laurie knew Sadie Jones from her volunteer work with the Master Gardener program. “Sadie is one of those volunteers that is always willing to help out anytime and anywhere she is needed,” Laurie says. When she learned that Sadie and her husband were blocked in and had concerns about the safety of their well water, she used a GroupMe chat line set up by District Director Pete Vergot to reach other Extension agents after the storm. Calhoun County agent Judy Biss knew just who to contact.
At 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, Eric and Amy Simonne pulled up in their tiny car loaded with a wheelbarrow, a chainsaw, extra gasoline and bar oil and a cooler with water, lunch and snacks. Eric Simonne is a UF/IFAS professor and director of the UF/IFAS Extension northeast district. Amy Simonne is a UF/IFAS professor of food safety and quality with the family, youth and community sciences department. They had both driven up to the Panhandle from Gainesville on Saturday to do whatever they could to help with hurricane relief efforts, and Biss directed them to Scott and Sadie. Together, they worked with the Jones family for about six hours, cutting up felled trees and clearing a path to the roads. “We could have easily stayed there for a month, the tree damage was so extensive,” Eric said. “Yet we were able to bring a little order and normalcy in the midst of all this chaos,” Amy added.
Long after the Simonnes had gone back home, Sadie remembered their kindness. “It truly rejuvenated, lifted our spirits, and gave a glimmer of hope for the days ahead,” she wrote in her letter. “Thank you, President Fuchs, for faculty that have compassion and great professionalism.”
Eric and Amy were just two of hundreds of UF/IFAS faculty, staff and volunteers who pitched in to help people in need after Hurricane Michael. I can tell dozens more stories about the compassion and selfless professionalism of our people across the state. And not just in relation to Hurricane Michael—every day UF/IFAS Extension faculty are out there helping people build better lives, whether it’s providing research-based information about how to control diabetes, demonstrating the benefits of new methods of agriculture or conducting workshops to help people start a new business.
We in Extension spend a lot of our time listening to feedback from our clients, reviewing hundreds of evaluations and surveys to gauge how effective we’ve been at communicating, teaching new ideas and influencing behavior. But sometimes, a single letter like the one from Scott and Sadie Jones really reminds us of why Extension exists: In the end, we’re here to help.
So here’s my thank-you note: I thank Scott and Sadie for their kind words, President Fuchs for sharing them, and the whole UF/IFAS family for helping the people of Florida every day.