A remarkable array of resources makes Hillsborough County's Extension Service a hub for modern, everyday life skills.
Today's eclectic lineup of unexpected educational offerings has a singular goal: improving Hillsborough residents' lives through teaching and research.
Learning to become a better parent is just one of a surprising variety. There also are courses and seminars on subjects as wide-ranging as stress management, lawns and gardens, and balancing work and family.
It no longer is your grandparents' Extension Service, when programs focused mostly on farming, cattle and other agricultural interests. The agency has evolved as the County's landscape and demographics changed from largely rural to include many urban and suburban communities.
The parenting/relationships/family life program, for example, is designed to be meaningful to people throughout the County. Parenting, after all, might be the most important job many people ever have. And they receive little or no training.
A recent session focused on disciplining children. Participants interacted with the instructor and classmates, and took home brochures with tips about raising children. After attending sessions spread over three weeks, they will receive course completion certificates.
Kristina Linde and her husband, Rick Vazquez, received their certificates in July. The Gibsonton couple have four children at home - ages 2, 5, 7, and 8.
The parenting lessons and materials helped Kristina and Rick see their children in another light. "It gives you a different outlook on how to go with the things your children do, the way they act, how they go about having conversations with you," Kristina says. "You need to take into consideration everything that's going through a child's brain."
Kristina says she enjoyed the parenting course so much she almost wished it were longer.
Most of Hillsborough's Extension Service offerings now focus on non-agricultural matters. But agriculture remains a big part of the programming, with instruction and insights about citrus, dairy, fruits and vegetables, livestock, horticulture, and more. The 4H program for youth also remains popular.
Each of Florida's 67 counties has an Extension office, with support and oversight from the state's land-grant college, the University of Florida. Programs are tailored to the needs and requests of local residents, and agents strive to stay on top of people's changing interests.
There are lots of ways the Extension Service helps County residents. If its agents do not address a topic that is important to you, let them know. Visit the website, call (813) 744-5519, or stop by the Hillsborough office at 5339 County Road 579 in Seffner.