With a lot of perseverance and a little money, Marilyn Garrett implemented an extension program that is strengthening lives across the state. About three years ago, Garrett, an extension specialist in the Kansas City area, used a $300 grant to launch an ever-growing program for vulnerable women, men and children known as "Survival Skills."
Kenneth Walker, center, talks to the group about body language
and developing communication skills during a morning survival
skills session. Walker, an extension nutrition education assistant
has also taught survival skills for men in the Kansas City area.
"The Survival Skills program is about showing limited resource audiences how to empower themselves," says Garrett. The curriculum teaches participants how to tap into community resources, how to prepare for job interviews, how to eat well on a tight budget. In short, the courses teach participants how to better take care of themselves.
"First participants figure out the resources within themselves," says Garrett. "Then they build on their own strengths to learn how to tap into community resources. "Many of the people we work with are very dependent on 'the system.' Our goal is self-sufficiency."
The Survival Skills curriculum began as a class for women." We know how important it is for the whole family if the woman is healthy. "But since then, Garrett and others have offered Survival Skills classes for men and youth as well. "We've found that dividing into genders helps the sharing process," says Garrett.
What started as one class in a Kansas City community center has grown into dozens of courses being developed throughout the state. Some 29 staff people statewide are trained to teach the Survival Skills for Women courses; 13 are trained for youth and four for men.
Marilyn Garrett, left, looks over survival skills materials with
teachers Stacy Smith, center, and Kenneth Walker before a
session at Whatsoever Community Center in Kansas City.
The course is taught in a range of settings:
alternative high schools, young mothers programs, battered
women's shelters, substance abuse groups and church groups.
Garrett is looking at introducing the curriculum into the
juvenile justice system next. Her ultimate goal: to get the youth
program into the school system.
The program's inception required great perseverance on Garrett's part. Shortly after being hired in 1992, extension asked her to visit other states to research successful urban programs. She saw a program similar to Survival Skills in Chicago and returned to Kansas City excited about implementing it here.
Anthony Morales, left and Jason Jones look
over study guides during a session.
Garrett didn't let the fact that she had few
resources - $300 - deter her. First she built support for the
program by pitching it to community agencies. Next Marilyn went
to a battered women's shelter in Kansas City to request a
contribution toward the training classes she would need to
implement the program successfully. In return, she agreed to
teach the course at the shelter.
"It all fell into place eventually," says Garrett. The program is now a major component of extension's Family Nutrition Program and used in counties across the state.