To connect with a local Extension Homemakers group, call 800-287-0274.
To see the current videos, go to the extension's website, www.extension.umaine.edu, and click on the YouTube icon at the top.
FARMINGTON — The day after Claudina Bechtel moved to Weld from Lewiston 20 years ago, a neighbor invited her to the next meeting of local Extension Homemakers, and she's been a member ever since.
“For me, I got introduced to the ladies of the town who were really the gatekeepers of the community," said Bechtel, 84. "They were so connected to the past, and many had been members all their lives."
“Years ago, it was a day off the farm for many women and they had a chance to learn those things their grandmothers never taught them,” she said.
This weekend, about 100 members of the Maine Extension Homemakers traveled to the University of Maine at Farmington for their annual convention to celebrate 60 years of service.
At a table on one side of North Dining Hall, alongside exhibits from other Extension Homemaker chapters from across the state, Bechtel was busy selling copies of the new Franklin County Extension Homemakers' 177-page cookbook, “Recipes from the Heart,” that were flying off the table.
The Maine Extension Homemakers, a program of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has a presence in every county and has local chapters in many Maine towns.
Volunteers meet monthly, usually over a potluck lunch. There is an educational program, they may do crafts with an Extension trainer, or work on projects that support worthy causes.
One of those has been the purchase of a $15,000 reading machine for the ALS Association to help Maine people suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The equipment, the second purchased by the Homemakers, helps patients use eye movement to communicate through computer-generated speech.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, struck down two members including the organization's state president, Cheryl Perkins, two years ago.
The keynote speaker Saturday was John Rebar, the executive director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, who applauded the Homemakers for actively working toward the betterment of all and for being role models in their communities.
He said as the economy continues to lag and budget cuts loom, the Extension is looking for ways to continue its mission of education with fewer resources and less staff.
The new direction will involve putting volunteer training sessions and educational videos online. He encouraged those in the audience to sharpen their technology skills so they can access the Extension's expanding website and Facebook presence. “A video costs us less than what it costs us to print a fact sheet,” Rebar said.
“We have made over 36 videos and have had 17,000 hits in three months," Rebar said. "There were 5,000 hits on our video on bedbugs that we put up three weeks ago. We will be taking our expertise and aligning it with the needs people have and putting it on the Internet."
Other speakers Saturday included Rep. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Lisa Phelps, assistant Extension professor who recently completed an oral history project with a local Extension Homemakers group.
In the article, “Voices from the Past, Wisdom for the Present and Future: Capturing and Learning from Oral History,” Phelps interviewed homemakers about their shared community history, their Extension history, and stories of the influence that Extension has had on their lives.
“The common themes I heard were the importance of education, teaching each other and helping others,” she said.
“You are making a difference in your communities,” she said.