URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension continues to address the needs of Illinois communities affected by the pandemic, and its work is being recognized by the National Association for Community Development Extension Professionals. Extension’s Local Government Education program was awarded second place in the Excellence in Teamwork Award for the North Central Region of NACDEP.

Last year, 39 webinars provided valuable information to more than 8,400 local government officials and community stakeholders, marking a six-fold increase in outreach from the previous year. This expansion was targeted to small business, organization, and community needs necessitated by the rapidly-changing COVID-19 environment

Illinois Extension partners with the State of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Illinois Office of Broadband, the Illinois Association of County Board Members, the Illinois Rural Development Council, and colleagues from the University of Illinois System in delivering the vital informational webinars.

The webinars reached elected and appointed officials and community leaders in all of Illinois’ 102 counties.

"This year, when local officials were not able to meet in person, the Local Government Education program provided timely information on COVID-19 responses, for both public and private sector stakeholders," says Anne Silvis, Illinois assistant dean and Extension community and economic development program leader. "Some of our long-standing partner organizations needed help to reach community decision-makers, and the platforms provided by Illinois Extension proved invaluable to this effort."

The longstanding program began as conference calls with local officials and experts who provided professional development and information on topics of interest to Illinois communities. The platform moved online in 2011. Each year, elected and appointed government officials, community and organizational leaders, and administrators from across the state meet virtually to expand their knowledge. Economic development professionals and agency staff benefit from the advanced instruction and broad expertise that instructors bring to this programming, Silvis says.

Nancy Ouedraogo, Extension specialist, manages the LGE program with the support of community and economic development team members who recruit presenters, moderate sessions, assess program needs, find useful case examples, and promote programs to local stakeholders.

The team offered support to small businesses hard hit by the pandemic, including programs on financial management and safety guidelines for mom-and-pop restaurants reopening after the pandemic. The restaurant series, conducted in partnership with the Illinois Restaurant Association and University of Illinois faculty, reached more than 500 participants.

Extension provided important overviews of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act funding and updates to employment issues and workers compensation. In subsequent months, the team delivered webinars to help local officials manage cutback budgeting and estimate the fiscal and economic impacts of the pandemic. Based on research on how local governments managed previous recessions, Extension shared immediate and long-term strategies for the leadership and management of cutback budgeting decisions.

Extension assists communities with broadband expansion, and its efforts were praised by Governor JB Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Julianna Stratton. The programs highlighted the increased community interest and engagement in Extension resources.

The award will be presented to the community and economic development team at the NACDEP Annual Conference in May. Illinois staff to be recognized include Ouedraogo, Zachary Kennedy, Kathie Brown, Lisa Merrifield, Jennifer Russell, Susan Odum, Tiffany Macke, Russell Medley, Mike Delany, and Joseph Malual.

SOURCE: Anne Silvis, Assistant Dean and University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development Program Leader

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.