COLLEGE STATION – Personnel from the Texas 4-H Conference Center near Brownwood have won a Superior Service Award from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in the Unit category.
The award, the highest bestowed by the agency, recognizes AgriLife Extension faculty and staff members who provide outstanding performance in education or to the agency. The award was presented Jan. 8 during the agency’s Centennial Conference in College Station.
Unit members specified in the award nomination were: Dr. Darlene Locke, center director; Mark Carroll, program director; Debbie Barnes, administrative assistant; Allen Stroud, facilities superintendent; Wayne Rice, food service manager; Dana Cross, lead office associate; Mary Cantrell, senior custodian; Nancy Williams, food service supervisor; Pam Kincheloe, food service supervisor; Robert Allen, maintenance worker; Dale Embrey, maintenance worker; Judith Weatherford, custodian; and Maranda Justice, custodian.
The center, which opened in April 1975, was founded by the Texas 4-H Youth Development Foundation as a means for providing a site for statewide volunteer development programs. Leased to AgriLife Extension in 1999, it now serves as a year-round conference and retreat center serving a variety of business, religious, fraternal, youth, educational and for-profit organizations. These activities and events allow the center to meet the goal of being self-sustaining by offsetting operational costs through income generated.
According to the award nomination, a gross income of $700,000 was generated by the 4-H Center in the fiscal years of 2012 and 2013. An economic impact assessment software system used by AgriLife Extension projected that in 2010, the 10,000-plus visitors to the 4-H Center, added $840,000 to the Brownwood area economy through their purchase of goods and services.
According to the nomination, a team of only 13 full-time staff members maintains the 4-H Center as their ‘home.’ It states that staffers “take pride in providing a clean, comfortable and inviting environment for guests. Making ‘the best better’ is a daily challenge they enthusiastically embrace.”
As many as 45 additional part-time staff are hired annually, with both full and part-time employees making the center a significant employer in the region. Economic impact analysis indicates that the center’s operating budget and visitor spending generates $2.15 million in total business activity and contributes $1.2 million gross domestic product, based on net business income and employee compensation.
The ‘service’ orientation of the entire staff is second to none,” stated Kyle Smith in his letter of commendation to support of the unit’s nomination. “This is truly fundamental to the continued success of the center. I am proud to lend my support and commendation for a group that is most deserving of the Superior Service unit award. Without question, this is truly a high-performing unit focused on excellence.”
Through center activities, the facility strives daily to provide a home-like experience for 4-H members and others associated with its summer youth camps. In 2013, the center served 2,929 youth, and over the past five years, the summer youth camp program has served 12,850 youth and adults. Through its summer youth camps the 4-H Center also provides a professional development opportunity for college students. The center has recruited, trained and employed 104 students over the past five years and many more since the first summer camp in 1975. Evaluations of summer staff recruits have shown knowledge gained and skill development in the areas of time management, dealing with behavioral issues and discipline, working with groups and enhancing communications.
The 4-H Center’s reach and impact on youth goes beyond the AgriLife Extension 4-H Youth
Development Program. For example, Mission Possible, a camp for youth with disabilities, provides youth with medically diagnosed disabilities a traditional summer camp experience.
The program also provides 4-H youth an opportunity for hands-on service learning. In 2012 and 2013, the Camp Corral Foundation selected the Texas 4-H Conference Center as a host for Camp Corral, “the week of a lifetime” for youth ages 8-15 that have a parent who has been wounded, disabled or killed in action while serving in the United States military. Through Camp Corral, the 4-H Center has provided a traditional camp experience for 275 military youth.
Another unique group utilizing the 4-H Center is the Midland Centers for Children, which uses the facility for the delivery of the Preparation for Adult Living Program for youth aging out of the foster care system. Rather than a typical classroom, the group used the camp environment and covered training for personal and interpersonal skills, job skills, transportation, health and money management.
Proper maintenance, housekeeping and food service enable the facility to host and comfortably sustain its numerous guests. The center, which encompasses 78 acres of woody, rocky, natural terrain, has three maintenance staff members to maintain the grounds and swimming pool. The center’s buildings and 10 dormitories total more than 48,200 square feet and include more than one hundred toilets, 65 shower stalls and 78 lavatories. There are also hundreds of light fixtures, 66 HVAC units and an 18,000 gallon waste water treatment plant to maintain.
Additionally, three housekeeping personnel clean and prepare 24 private rooms in the Leadership
Lodge and, during the summer and for large events, also maintain the ten dormitories. Adult groups that utilize the dormitories are provided linens during their stay which can equate to 260 sets of towels, sheets and blankets that are laundered and put out. The ten dormitories amount to an additional 40 showers, 80 lavatories and 60 toilets.
The food service department, which consists of three employees with additional part-time staff, was also cited in the nomination. During busier months, department personnel prepare and serve three quality daily meals for center guests. Over the past five years, the food service staff has increased their knowledge of gluten free dishes and quality dish preparation, the nomination stated.
In his letter of support for the unit nomination, Ron Rainwater, a professor in the department of fitness and sport sciences at Hardin-Simmons University, noted: “Before and during our two weeks at the 4-H Center, all of the various components of the center (administrative staff, housekeeping, maintenance, food services, and programming staff) go the ‘extra mile’ to see that our camps go smoothly… The maintenance crew takes tremendous care of us… Often some of our students have special dietary needs and the food services staff specifically prepares food to meet those particular diets… The personnel in housekeeping do an excellent job of daily providing us with all of our room and board needs.
“Dr. Darlene Locke and her administrative team are second to none and the partnership and relationship with the entire Texas 4-H Center unit is one we count at Hardin-Simmons as a true blessing.”