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Kind and Brave

Cathann Kress and Cy with young girl in an elementary school classroomAuthor and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton says kind people are brave people. That’s because brave is a decision that compassion is more important than fear or fitting in.

When I read this in her blog, I remembered something a young Iowan once told me: “I wish that everybody – everybody – would be kind.” That was her brave wish for the future of our state. I met this young Iowan a few years ago while we were shooting an ISU Extension and Outreach video. She told me how she dreams that cities won’t have pollution and everybody will be healthy. We talked for several minutes about her ideas for the future, and then she was off on her way.

The grownup blogger and the young Iowan have the right idea. To be kind we have to be brave, because it requires putting the needs of others ahead of our own: like when we’re helping those hit by flooding to deal with the aftermath, or offering guidance to farmers under financial stress, or developing the necessary skills to engage in a diverse and global society. In ISU Extension and Outreach we have about 1,200 faculty and staff all across the state so we can be everywhere for all Iowans. We strive to be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. I think it’s safe to say we also strive to be kind and compassionate as we work with Iowans to meet common goals and aspirations. That’s what cooperatives do.

And that’s how we’ll achieve a strong Iowa – when we take care of each other, when we pay it forward, when we act with kindness. Because when we are kind, we are brave. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Maybe you’ve seen our video, but it’s worth watching again to learn what some young Iowans think about “Whatever the Future Holds.” You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

A Nugget of Pride

In 1965 astronaut Ed White, on the Gemini 4 mission, became the first American to conduct a spacewalk. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and over 2,500 others were arrested in Selma, Alabama, during demonstrations against voter-registration rules. The last link was placed in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. And here in Iowa, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was established and Marilyn Walker was hired as an office professional with ISU Extension and Outreach in Monroe County. Essentially, Marilyn’s career has spanned nearly half of our organization’s existence and she will be recognized for her 50 years of service during our ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception March 8. We’ll be honoring Marilyn along with other extension professionals who have reached the 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5 years-of-service milestones. What a tremendous legacy of service for our fellow Iowans.

People sometimes ask me what I’m proud of in ISU Extension and Outreach. Well, I’m proud that we have dedicated faculty and staff throughout the state – like Marilyn and all the others being recognized for their length of service. I’m proud that people are committed to ISU Extension and Outreach for the long haul, and I’m proud that new people continue to join the ranks of our extension professionals. I’m also proud of the faculty, staff, and council members who will be receiving awards for their programming, partnerships, innovation, creativity, scholarship, engagement, achievement, and impact – and for demonstrating the Spirit of Cy. But here’s the nugget of pride for me: I’m proud to be part of an organization full of people who daily choose to see possibility rather than just succumbing to the status quo. People who are eager to explore ways to serve their fellow Iowans and ensure our state and communities are able to sustain and thrive.

Most of all, I’m proud of the work that we all do together in ISU Extension and Outreach, because I’ve seen firsthand the impact on the communities and people of Iowa. I’m enormously proud to be part of an institution that values this work for the public good and sees its role as fulfilling a partnership with our citizens. We all can be proud that together we are building a strong Iowa. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. The ISU Extension and Outreach Awards Ceremony and Reception will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8 at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

This week found me attending the naming ceremony for the fifth USS Iowa. It will be one of the Navy’s newest Virginia Class attack submarines. As someone who came here from the Pentagon, with two Air Force veteran parents, and a brother who was a career submariner in the Navy, these moments mean a lot to me.

I’ve mentioned a few times the important role Iowa has played in our nation and the world with our forward-thinking people. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus reminded me that ships bearing our state name also are similarly distinguished. The previous USS Iowa BB-61 was known as the Battleship of Presidents and carried Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic to meet with Prime Minister Churchill and Josef Stalin. The first Iowa was a gunboat dating back to 1864. The second Iowa fired the first shot at Santiago Bay in the Spanish-American War.

Last Saturday, I was up in Forest City for Operation LZ to officially welcome back Iowa’s Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans and thank them. I learned about the distinguished service of some of Iowa’s veterans and their selflessness. Iowans have a long history of showing up, serving others, and being pretty humble about it. That’s certainly what I find with my colleagues and partners with Extension and Outreach, too.

As summer fair and field day season winds down and fall programs gear up, it may be easy to feel overwhelmed with all we have to do. Maybe it’s the nature of extension work, or maybe it’s our desire to give our all to help Iowans. I understand that, but I also know that along with meeting the needs of Iowans, we have to take care of ourselves. Vietnam veteran and POW Larry Spencer, speaking at Operation LZ, said that when you get down, remember if there’s a doorknob on your side of the door, it’s a good day. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.

Let Freedom Rock

freedom-rockLast week I had the opportunity to visit southwest Iowa, specifically, our ISU Extension and Outreach Region 18. My trip included tours of Owner Revolution Inc. (a plastics manufacturing company that works with our partner CIRAS), a wind turbine, and the Warren Cultural Center and Adair County Extension office. I also had a great conversation with ISU Extension and Outreach staff about our organizational culture, outcomes from our recent annual conference, and where we’re headed as an organization.

I always appreciate the opportunity to stay in touch with our partners and the work our staff, faculty, and specialists do throughout the state. But this visit also was inspiring, because along the way I met an individual who in his own way is making a difference for Iowans. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II painted Iowa’s original Freedom Rock, a 12-foot-tall boulder located along Iowa Highway 25 about a mile south of exit 86 on Interstate 80. He repaints it every year, just in time for Memorial Day. It’s his way of thanking U.S. veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice for our nation. He doesn’t get paid and he doesn’t receive a commission to do it. He just does it, with his own funds, donations, and sales of Freedom Rock merchandise. Last year he began The Freedom Rock Tour, with the goal of painting a patriotic-themed rock in every Iowa county.

My family still calls it Decoration Day, but Memorial Day was intended to remember those who died in service to our country. I think of it as a day to reflect upon service, and Ray’s artwork provides a powerful visual of what service can entail. While I worked at the Pentagon, I attended national ceremonies at Arlington — a definite reminder of the service of so many. Next week many communities will be having parades, celebrations, or service events to commemorate the day. There are many kinds of service and at its best, it’s action necessary for communities to thrive and prosper.

Whether you celebrate with marching bands and 21-gun salutes, or let freedom “rock” in quiet contemplation by a painted stone, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on service and how critical it is for freedom. See you there.

— Cathann

P.S. Special thanks to Deena Wells, Adair County office assistant, for taking this photo.

Building Relationships and Strengthening Communities

Monday was Memorial Day, recognized nationwide for great sales and bargains. At least that’s what all the advertising circulars would have us believe. Some people who had the day off, but who didn’t go shopping, may have thought of it only as the unofficial beginning of summer and grilling season.

My family still calls it Decoration Day, but Memorial Day was intended to remember those who died in service to our country. Many communities still have parades, celebrations, or service events to commemorate the day.  While I worked at the Pentagon, I attended national ceremonies at Arlington — a definite reminder of the service of so many.

I appreciate the time to reflect upon service. The community aspect resonates with me as well. Bringing people together for a common purpose builds relationships and strengthens communities.

When we carry out our land-grant mission, we build relationships and strengthen communities throughout Iowa. Iowa State’s new president, Steven Leath, wants the university to be fully engaged in moving our state forward. He calls himself “a land-grant guy” and he understands that through Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University is embedded in communities across Iowa to consistently engage with citizens. Let me share a few of his recent comments:

From Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, 3/2/12

“I started my career as an extension person in Illinois. I have great respect and understanding of extension.”

From the Des Moines Register, 4/12/12

“I think it’s going to be hard for Iowa as a state to really go forward economically and create the jobs Gov. Branstad wants if the university is not fully engaged.”

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette, 2/11/12

“I think land grants, more than any other university type in this country, get their mission right. They’re based on high-quality education, research to benefit society, and then translating that research to effective engagement.”

From ISU Alumni Association’s Visions Magazine, Spring 2012

“[Iowa State] has done a very, very good job of transferring its innovation and faculty scholarship outside the campus where it makes a difference in society.”

“And what it really translates to when you come right down to it, it’s about relationships. They have to trust me, they have to trust the university, they have to know we’re a good partner. They’re going to have to know we’re accountable, we’re transparent, and we’ll make good partners with them. And then you build those relationships over time, across the state with different constituencies, and that’s what will make us successful long term.”

See you there.

— Cathann

Superstars … Or the Whole Team?

Former NBA player Walter Bond gave the keynote address at the 2011 Farm Bureau annual meeting — and his message has been noodling around in my head ever since.

Walter talked about our tendency to focus on basketball superstars. However, he noted that it takes many people for the NBA to function. Superstars do not “make it” on their own. They need the other players, coaches, trainers, managers, and so on, to successfully compete. Together they are the whole team.

Walter really wasn’t talking about basketball; he’s a motivational speaker now, after all. He was talking about organizations and what organizations need to succeed. A few superstars aren’t going to cut it — a successful organization needs a team with the right combination of staff at all levels, doing the right things. All the members of the team have to be really good at what they do and provide exceptional service to their customers — so their customers will enjoy the experience and return for more.

We’re building for success in ISU Extension and Outreach — so we all can be really good at what we do and provide exceptional service. That’s why we are restructuring extension administration into teams for County Services and Outreach, Operations, Program Leadership, and Organizational Advancement. That’s why we’re working on a professional development plan for our organization, but in the meantime we’re training our players. For example, ANR staff gathered for in-service in March, our office professionals participated in their conference April 4, and Families and 4-H staff held in-service this week. 

As we continue to follow up on our Leadership Summit, carry out our Strategic Plan, and implement our Business Plan, we will continue to address how we work as well as what we do, so we can more effectively engage Iowans and create increased impact through both existing and new programs. See you there.

— Cathann