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Serving Florida’s youth—25 years and counting

Published: April 28th, 2009

Category: Spotlights

Shelda Wilkens

Shelda Wilkens

Seminole County Extension Agent
UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Let’s just come right out and say it: Seminole County extension agent Shelda Wilkens’ office is a little on the messy side.

But it’s messy in a good way: the sort of disarray you get when you’re juggling umpteen different projects at any given time.

It’s all reflective of her long stint—she hit the 25-year mark in April—as a county extension agent. For 24 of those years, she handled 4-H duties only, but with the addition of a second 4-H agent in Seminole, her job now includes Family, Youth and Community Sciences agent duties, such as educating consumers, as well.

There are bags of landscaping rocks on the floor, supplies for an upcoming project. Boxes of ribbons and certificates and medallions that will go to winners of various contests. Casually stowed in the corner is a large trophy for the LifeSmarts team she just coached to a fourth state championship.

“I haven’t figured out what to do with that yet,” she said.

Seminole County is the state’s third smallest in land size, but with a large suburban population. It’s not known for agriculture, but Wilkens is one of the state’s longest-serving, most successful 4-H agents.

She has done it by balancing 4-H’s traditional-agriculture focus with a wide array of other programs, from the 4-H Tropicana public speaking program that reaches many of the county’s sixth-graders, to short-term workshops that involve hands-on projects such as sewing or hydroponics.

“With all of those, I want kids to start something and complete something,” she said. “They walk away with something that is done.”

There are some 4,000 students in Seminole 4-H programs. About half of them seem to have given Wilkens a photograph to post on one of two chock-full bulletin boards behind her desk.

“That’s one of the great things about this job,” she said. “You get to work with nice families and you become a part of their family. You get invited to weddings, baby showers.”

On this day, five members of the LifeSmarts team are filing in to her office for practice, preparing for the following week’s national contest in St. Louis. LifeSmarts is a game show-style competition for ninth- through 12th-graders that helps create savvy consumers.

“It’s kind of cool stuff,” Wilkens said. “How many high schoolers know the difference between a Roth and a traditional IRA? Or who knows the difference between a stock and a bond? Or know what the Federal Trade Commission does?”

Photo credit: Ray Carson — University Photography

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