Fifteen years ago, Agricultural and Human Sciences department professor Jim Flowers suggested to Chrissy Haynes ‘07 ‘19 that she pursue an internship with Cooperative Extension. Today, Haynes is county extension director for Montgomery County, and loves everything about her job.
“From a very young age, I always wanted to attend NC State University,” says Haynes, who grew up in Montgomery County. After being active in FFA during high school and inspired by her FFA advisor, Haynes originally thought her career would be in agricultural education, and it was only after becoming a member of the Wolfpack as an undergraduate student, and taking Flowers’ advice to complete an internship with Cooperative Extension, that Haynes discovered a true passion for 4-H Youth Development. “[Flowers] told me that he could hear the love and passion that I had for children of all ages during our discussions,” says Haynes, and he “just knew that 4-H would be a great career option for me.” In contrast to being accountable to a set curriculum in formal education environments, Haynes says, she loved how no two days are the same in extension work. In addition to Flowers, Haynes says that horticulture professor Bryce Lane was also a key positive influence during her time as an undergraduate student. “His passion and excitement were contagious,” says Haynes, and his classes made learning so much fun that she pursued a minor in Horticulture to take more classes with him. Haynes graduated from NC State in 2007, with a degree in extension education and a minor in horticulture.
After a year working in formal education, Haynes found her home as 4-H extension agent for Montgomery County, and served in that role for fourteen years before transitioning to her current county director role in December of 2019. As 4-H agent, Haynes loved the flexibility she had to meet the needs of the community proactively, and work on a variety of different projects. “One day, I would have the opportunity to work with a group of 5-8 year olds on a healthy lifestyles project,” she notes, “and the next I might be working with a group of 9th-12th graders on a leadership or citizenship curriculum. That was exciting to me.”
After working in her role as 4-H agent for a number of years, getting married, and having children, Haynes decided to return to NC State to pursue a master’s degree while working full-time. She chose the Youth, Family, and Community Sciences (YFCS) degree in the Agricultural and Human Sciences department. “I felt that it was beneficial to me to have waited,” says Haynes, “as every class that I took in the YFCS program seemed so applicable to my daily job.” Had she pursued the master’s immediately following her bachelor’s degree, Haynes notes, she doesn’t think it would have had the same impact. “I saw the relevance in every single class I took and the work required in those classes,” she notes. “I will treasure those experiences throughout the rest of my career.” As a graduate student, Haynes says that Kim Allen and Harriet Edwards, among many other professors, were valuable means of encouragement and support as she balanced students, work, and family life. “I was blessed to receive my undergraduate and my graduate degree from NC State,” she says. Haynes also thanks her mom for being her biggest inspiration. “She was a single mother who always encouraged her children to follow their dreams,” she notes. “She has been my biggest cheerleader, along with my husband and children, throughout my career and my pursuit of my continued education.”
As extension director, Haynes says that her job looks a little different than it did as 4-H agent, but the mission is the same: meeting the needs of the community. “I still love that we look at the needs of our community and decide on programs that are needed in our part of the state before we teach a class or program,” notes Haynes. Not only that, but they can meet the community where they are. “Whether it is in the middle of a peach orchard, in a community garden, at a local restaurant, or in an elementary school classroom, extension is there to help bring research-based information to the people that we serve,” says Haynes. The Montgomery County extension team is made up of nine staff members, who work together to provide information and programming to the community in the areas of agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and 4-H youth development, and it’s Haynes’ job to help her staff find the resources they need to in turn, meet community needs. She also helps establish community relationships to help strengthen their service and impact.
The pandemic, Haynes says, has been a “whirlwind” of flexibility, adaptation, and change, as they adapted programs to virtual formats to meet the needs of their clientele, and now are transitioning back to more face-to-face programming. “Our staff and our community has been resilient through it all,” says Haynes. “I feel we are starting to see the sun shine on our communities as we see the clouds clearing from the pandemic.”
Looking ahead, Haynes is eager to continue working in Cooperative Extension. “Growing up in Montgomery County, I know that the work we do on a daily basis makes a difference in the lives of families in our community.”