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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

James is meeting the needs of her diverse clientele

STILLWATER, Okla. – In her nearly 24-year career with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Arleen James has learned how to think quickly on her feet. This skill has come in handy on numerous occasions, although there is one that particularly stands out.
James is meeting the needs of her diverse clientele

Arleen James works closely with the Hispanic population in Texas County. (photo provided)

James, who serves as the Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Youth Development Extension educator in Texas County, was presenting a program to Head Start parents regarding Thanksgiving meal preparation. The majority of her audience was Hispanic.

“I’d put together what I thought was a great presentation of foods for Thanksgiving. I talked about how to prepare turkey, dressing and sweet potatoes,” James said. “As I was doing my presentation, I could tell they weren’t with me. I finally just asked them what they had for Thanksgiving and they replied, ‘tamales and beer.’ So right there I changed my presentation, although it was much shorter than I’d planned. We all had a good laugh, but I learned something that day. It’s important to understand the culture of your audience and how it may differ from our own.”

Learning about a culture other than her own has taken on an even bigger role in her job as the diversity of the population in Texas County continues to grow. The Hispanic population is currently about 40 percent.

In an effort to help better meet the needs of her diverse clientele, James said she has organized focus groups with the Hispanic population to find out what their needs were so those needs could be addressed by OCES.

“I visited with them on numerous occasions to find out what types of programs they might attend. When I first began working with the Hispanic population 20 years ago, I learned if the father didn’t think the mother should attend meetings, they couldn’t come,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve seen this become less the case. The women are showing leadership.”

Despite being English-speaking only, James works with a translator to provide Spanish versions of programs such as PREP, Parents as Teachers and Active Parenting, as well as Co-Parenting for Resilience. She also brought the Farm to You exhibit to Texas County where it reached more than 1,500 youth, of which 50 percent were Hispanic. There are over 54 different languages spoken in Texas County and James said she is blessed to have individuals who have been willing to help her translate materials in order to reach a greater audience.

Co-Parenting for Resilience is a court-mandated program for parents of minor children who are going through a divorce. James said she works with Hispanic and other parents as they go through the program. Because of their exposure to this beneficial program, James said these parents often ask what other programming is available through OCES.

“I’ve gained their trust as a source to assist them with issues. I’ve helped them learn to become leaders, have faith in their abilities and achieve personal goals they didn’t realize they needed in order to survive and thrive in society,” James said. “Parents have learned how to parent their children, how to be involved in their children’s school, how to feed their families healthy meals and safe food preparation skills.

Elvia Hernandez has worked with James for a number of years and served on her Program Advisory Council.

“Arleen is an awesome lady here in Guymon,” Hernandez said. “She collaborates with other services available in the community to help as many people as she can. She has the ability to engage the community and has a great way with people. She’s so loving of our community.”

Several years ago, James helped organize an Oklahoma Home and Community Education group for the Spanish-speaking population. The group met for a few years, but members determined the format of the group did not work for them. However, those same women still come into the Texas County OSU Extension office seeking assistance.

“I was contacted by a client who had been in our Healthy Families program to start a Hispanic 4-H Club. Most of them spoke English, so that made it easier,” James said. “However, if we had someone who didn’t speak English, I could count on my clients to translate.”

No matter what the situation, James is there for her clients. She said they come in asking questions about gardening and lawn care. Some come to the office with questions concerning court cases or other legal issues they may be having at the time.

“We may not always be the exact source they need for answers, but the employees in the Texas County OSU Extension office are more than helpful in sending them in the right direction to get the help they need,” she said. “We’ve gained their trust as a source to assist them with issues. In the years that I’ve been with Extension, my greatest blessing has been working with those individuals who really don’t know what their needs are. I’ve always gone out of my way to offer programs that will meet their needs. I’ve worked hard and it has been rewarding to know I’m doing my best to enhance their lives.”

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Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)
trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000