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New location, new county director at Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service

LOS LUNAS - There are several new looks around the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service office. First, it's in a new location, and there's a familiar face in a new role.

Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service's new county director, home economist Anne-Marie Wilson, left, joins her staff, left to right, agricultural agent Allison Chipman, ICAN coordinator Dorothy Mutchie and administrative secretary Brenda Velasquez in front of the new office at 404 Courthouse Road in Los Lunas. (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Jane Moorman)

The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service office in Los Lunas has moved from the former Los Lunas Hospital and Training School state campus on Main Street to 404 Courthouse Road, where the county's planning and zoning department had been housed. The county's zoning regulators have moved to 504 Luna Ave., across from the courthouse. The Extension office also has a new phone number, (505) 565-3002.

"It's a better location, more exposure to people passing by and easier for people to find," said Anne-Marie Wilson, home economist. Wilson is the new county director filling the vacancy created when Juli Hutchins resigned to move to Texas.

"I am excited to be entrusted to oversee the continuation of the many community-based programs offered through the Extension Service," she said. "I am pleased to have such a hard-working staff that is committed to providing outstanding educational opportunities in the areas of youth development, agriculture support, nutrition and home economics."

Wilson, a native of Belen, joined the Valencia County staff three years ago as home economist and 4-H agent.

"Having grown up in 4-H in Valencia County I didn't realize all that the Extension people do," she said. "Even though we have a lot of contact with the residents of Valencia County through our programs, I still think what the Cooperative Extension Service has to offer is one of the best-kept secrets. We're working hard to get the word out to people what we have to offer."

As the county's home economist, Wilson was the administrator for the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition (ICAN) nutrition program that Dorothy Mutchie coordinates with nutrition educator Katrine Uptain. ICAN provides classes to low-income families, childcare providers and public school students.

"In this new role, I will now be the administrator over the entire office which includes agricultural agent Allison Chipman and the 4-H agent, a position we are currently filling," Wilson said. She will also continue her duties as the county home economist, which includes her participation in the county's council of health agencies, Valencia Community Partnership.

Following in the steps of former county directors Frank Holguin and Hutchins, Wilson said the county's program is very strong. "We're not just a traditional agriculture, 4-H and nutrition program," she said. "Our staff is community minded and we are addressing the issues that our families are facing, such as parenting and life skills, awareness of the signs of depression and suicide and self-worth training for teenage girls."

In keeping with the focus areas established by the county advisory board, Wilson plans to expand the diabetes awareness programs from the Kitchen Creations nutrition and hands-on cooking classes to an exercise program, Strong Women.

"This is a weightlifting program that meets two days a week for women age 50-plus and men, if they choose to join us, that teaches the importance of healthy bones through exercise," Wilson said.

The advisory board's other focus areas include community education in water conservation, assisting farmers with agriculture and livestock issues and working with youth.

Valencia County is among the top four 4-H programs in the state. With 332 4-H members in 15 clubs with the opportunity to participate in hundreds of project units, things have been a little hectic as Wilson and Chipman share the responsibilities since interim 4-H agent Breanne Green left the program to take a teaching position.

One way community members learn more about the Extension programs is through the Extension Association of New Mexico, Valencia County chapter, formerly known as the Homemakers Club.

"This very active club provides educational programs such as identity theft prevention, nutrition, diabetes awareness and crafts and home decoration projects," Wilson said. "The members also participate in community service projects, such as organizing gift packages for the CASA program and participating in the state organization's literacy program. This year we are fortunate that one of our members, Cindy Robison, is the state president. The club will be having a membership tea on Wednesday, Aug. 22, for those interested in joining. People are invited to call our office at 565-3002 for more information."

One thing Wilson likes about her job with the Extension Service is that no two days are alike, and her staff agrees.

During the past month, Brenda Velasquez, administrative secretary, has been keeping the office organized during the transition from the move, and preparing for the county fair that will run from Aug. 18-25.

After the fair, the staff will focus on filling the 4-H agent position and a vacancy in the nutrition educator positions. And then just when they think they can take a break, school will start, which will increase the requests for nutrition education. Also, the staff will prepare for the second annual Fall Farm Festival on Oct. 27. The family fun event will be held at NMSU's Agricultural Science Center south of Los Lunas. Last year participants enjoyed making corn husk dolls, riding in a hay ride and finding their way through a corn field maze. This year the staff at the experimental farm has planted pumpkins so the young and old alike can carve a jack-o-lantern just in time for Halloween.