Tobin Smith recognized as Connect with Kids Champion at Virginia Cooperative Extension annual Arlington/Alexandria showcase

Lauren Bulka Tricia Rodgers, chair of the Connect with Kids Champions selection committee, congratulates Tobin Smith at VCE breakfast

The Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families (APCYF) lauded Tobin “Toby” Smith as a Connect with Kids Champion during the Arlington-Alexandria Virginia Cooperative Extension annual breakfast and showcase last week.

Connect with Kids Champions are people who go out of their way to develop and maintain positive, supportive relationships with young people. Each fall and spring, APCYF invites the Arlington community to nominate individuals, groups, businesses, and non-profit organizations as Champions because of the relationships they’ve built with young people.

Smith, vice president for Policy, Association of American Universities, volunteers with Arlington 4-H Youth Development. He has connected with kids since 1988 using nature and fishing as the hook. Starting with a 4-H Gardening Club for children of refugees from Southeast Asia, he later formed a 4-H Fishing Club for ten children ages 8-10 and worked with that group until they graduated from high school.

Fishing and gardening activities allowed Smith to teach leadership and environmental stewardship. But as the club members grew, he found that they were often teaching him about friendship and other life lessons. He stays in contact with many of them, who are now raising children of their own. And Smith continues to connect with kids, and connect them to nature, through the 4-H Junior Master Naturalists clubs.

Danielle Werchowsky, whose son is in the 4-H Junior Master Naturalist club, has accompanied Smith on many fishing trips and has seen the impact on her son. “Toby takes the kids past their comfort zone to try new things like eating insects, touching a worm, or fishing,” she says. “He has a knack for connecting with kids.”

4-H Youth Development is just one of the programs offered by VCE, founded in 1914 to bring the resources of Virginia's land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Other programs include Master Gardeners Program, Master Financial Education, Family Nutrition Program, Energy Masters, and Master Food Volunteer Program.

During last week’s event, volunteers from the food program prepared a home-cooked breakfast for some 76 invited guests, including a number of elected government officials and/or their representatives.

Judy Connolly, chair of the Arlington-Alexandria Extension Leadership Council, thanked all the extension volunteers who work untiringly to serve their communities. She said that 812 volunteers contributed more than 41,300 volunteer hours, equating to a dollar value of $852,750. And, she noted, volunteers led 1,419 public education programs last year, providing more than 74,000 people with valuable and practical information to help improve their lives.

2015 program highlights include:

  • A reported $13,000 in savings by Money Talk course participants; savings totals $406,000 since 2006
  • With an 18 percent increased demand for programming, 14 new Nutrition Program locations were added for a total of 31 sites
  • $101, 555 in utility costs was saved in Arlington apartments where Energy Masters made improvements; 474 apartments have been retrofitted since 2011
  • Inaugural Urban Agriculture Symposium featured 15 speakers and 72 attendees

For more information about Virginia Cooperative Extension programs in the National Capital Region, or how to volunteer, contact: Jennifer Abel by email or at (703) 228-6407.

Posted December 9, 2015