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Seeing Critical Issues Everywhere — and Our Role in Addressing Them

By Mary Jo Katras, Program Leader — Family Resiliency

Making a difference by connecting community needs and University resources to address critical issues in Minnesota.

I know this statement well — it is Extension’s mission statement that drives our work. I have used it many times as a way to describe who WE are and to put context to our work. I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot lately, as I have been listening to the radio, checking in on current events, and reading the newspaper. I was struck by what I heard and read.

First, I heard a story on the radio about health insurance literacy and the challenges people across the nation are facing in understanding the terms and concepts involved in making an informed decision when choosing a health insurance plan (NPR’s “Do You Speak Health Insurance? It’s Not Easy”). Choosing the right plan has implications for health and personal finance. So this is a critical issue, right? I’m proud to say we address this critical issue in our Family Resiliency programming through our Smart Choice Health Insurance™ workshops. These workshops help individuals and families understand health insurance to make the best decision for themselves and their families.

A few days later, I came across an article online about a program created by the Minneapolis-based Somali American Parent Association to address the challenges Somali parents face as they try to navigate the American educational system (MPR’s “For Somali families, a bridge between school and home”). Another critical issue, right? And one that we address through our Partnering for School Success programming, which helps bridge the gap between families and schools by helping parents learn practical ways to be more involved and more effective in their children's school success.

Photos from the spring 2015 field trip. Read more: PSS Participants Tour U of M.

About a week, later it happened again! I heard about the flooding in the southern states. Yet another critical issue and one that we address through our Disaster Recovery work.

These examples are just a snippet of the important work that we do across our Health and Nutrition and Family Resiliency program areas and how WE are helping to address the critical issues facing our state and the nation.

As more critical issues emerge and are identified, we have to decide what our role should be and how we can be part of the conversation. The roles we choose will look different for different issues. Sometimes our role might be delivering an educational program to families and individuals. At other times, our role might center on educating community providers. And at still other times, our role might involve bringing a group of individuals and organizations together to address a critical issue affecting a community.

I challenge you over the next week to listen a little closer and take time to observe the world around you. Ask yourself: What are the critical issues we face in Minnesota, and what is my role in addressing them? Your answers will help you make a difference in our state.

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