Thursday, June 30, 2016

SNRE profile: Mat-Su 4-H agent enjoys the outdoors

Growing up in Minneapolis, Lee Hecimovich became aware of 4-H through cousins and their friends who raised animals for the fair.  “I was always the city kid who longed for the country life,” she said.

Mat-Su 4-H agent Lee Hecimovich cradles one of her Icelandic lambs.
Angie Freeman Shephard and her daughter, Elizabeth, were discussing
sheep care with the agent.
She and her husband, Lan, moved to Alaska in 1987 when he was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks. Lee started volunteering with 4-H after their son, Quentin, joined a Cloverbud club as a kindergartner. She helped out with his club and camps, continuing that work when they moved to the Mat-Su Valley in 1990. For six years, she served as the county director for the Farm Service Agency in Palmer. The Extension and 4-H office was then across the street and she spent a fair amount of time there and at the fair volunteering.

At some point, she thought, Wouldn’t it be great to work in 4-H and be here all the time? A position opened up in 2001 and Hecimovich, who has a degree in resource and wildlife management, was encouraged to apply.

Hecimovich is now the longest-serving 4-H agent in Alaska. She coordinates an active program with help from committed volunteers. “I couldn’t do it all by myself,” she said. A variety of community experts teach classes like poultry showmanship, a sheep skillathon and a dairy goat clinic. Volunteers also lead a “pig camp,” a series of four workshops on raising pigs, workshops on butchering chickens and many more topics.

“I’m always amazed at the expertise in this state,” she said.

Although the district has a strong livestock committee and program, Hecimovich’s real passion is outdoor and environmental education. Last week, she taught a teen group at the Big Lake library about edible plants. She developed a workshop about how to encourage youth to do outdoor activities, which was based on the “No Child Left Indoors” movement. She delivered the workshop at a regional 4-H leaders conference (WRLF) and for the National 4-H Camping Institute. She and Fairbanks agent Marla Lowder co-authored a guide called “Alaska 4-H Camping and Outdoor Activities,” with information about setting up camp, building fires, safety and activities.

While her primary audience is 4-H, the agent reaches out to other youth organizations, offering workshops to Girl Scouts and FFA members, and to the school district through the Agriculture in the Classroom program. “I just need an audience,” she jokes. She has also planned outdoor youth activities at the annual Ag Appreciation Day at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

She often teams up with Palmer agent Julie Cascio on classes for adults and youth about identifying and using wild berries and on edible wild greens. She also teaches emergency preparedness classes, an interest that developed naturally, she said, since her husband was a firefighter for the Anchorage Fire Department.

Along the way, Hecimovich earned a master’s degree in vocational education in 2005 from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She received a Distinguished Service Award in 2010 from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.

Hecimovich is happy she has a busy program but she would like to reach a more diverse audience. “I like the job but we’re missing a lot of the need here,” she said. She would like to connect with more youth from different ethnic groups, youth in foster care and others considered at risk, as well as get more site- based activities going at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.

She serves on several community boards, including the state FFA Board of Directors and the Mat-Su Borough Agriculture Board. Interests outside work include gardening, hiking, canoeing and, most recently, paddleboarding. She and her husband have a 40-acre farm in Palmer and raise Icelandic sheep for wool and meat. The Icelandic sheep, incidentally, started as her son’s 4-H project.

As an aside, Quentin is a SNRE alumnus, having received a master’s in natural resources management in 2011. He has had several state and federal forestry jobs since he graduated, but most recently started work as a U.S. Forest Service fire prevention technician in Moose Pass.

No comments: