February 12, 2019
Community Development is in Deb Andres' Blood
Community Development is in Deb Andres’ blood. Growing up in an Extension family, she knew she wanted to be an Extension agent too, but it took a while to attain her goal. Her dad, Paul Oltmanns, was an agent in Rice, Marshall and Shawnee Counties and a highly valued educator, so when Deb went to K-State, it was with the intent of being an Extension agent like her dad. When she graduated from KSU in 1988 there was a hiring freeze, so her pathway to becoming an agent wound through Frito Lay where she managed 75 employees and produced $180,000 of chips every 8 hours. “When the chips are down, everyone knew it,” laughed Andres. She worked hard, got excellent training and learned a lot at Frito Lay. After her marriage, she went to grad school and became a program assistant in (then) Home Economics Extension at KSU. She was a high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher and taught entrepreneurial classes for all the vocational programs alongside her FCS classes for 14 years. Deb was gratified to watch her students increase their entrepreneurial skills and to learn the value of collaboration.
After moving on to Kansas State University as an instructor in the College of Education for 8 years, Andres finally saw the opportunity to become a Family and Consumer Science agent in Geary County in 2013. From the first year she started, Andres threw herself into roles in the community’s collaborative efforts to increase the health of Geary County citizens. The year she arrived, Geary Community Hospital was in the midst of an effort to complete a Community Health Assessment. Andres said, “Because of my new agent orientation, I knew all the health statistics for our county and felt well-prepared to contribute. I was so proud to represent Extension and feel like I did it well even as a new agent.”
“Access to Healthy Foods” was a priority named by the Community Health Assessment. The local health department received a grant that required community engagement. Geary County has high levels of poverty and low access to healthy foods. Because of the focus on community collaborations, Andres was one of the people who toured the Kansas Food Bank that services the Junction City food banks. It was eye-opening. As a result they started “summer picnic parties,” a feeding program where whole families could participate.
Marty Rombold, McKinney-Vento Coordinator for USD475 and Live Well Geary County member, recruited the help of the local ministerial alliance and affiliated churches to serve summer lunches to thousands of children in 2016, completely with volunteer labor. The Kansas Food Bank provided volunteer training to the coordinator and served as the sponsor.
Because of her long-standing involvement in the organization, Andres serves as an advisor and ex-officio member of the Live Well Geary County (LWGC) Coalition Leadership Team. LWGC is a 501(c)3 organization which serves as the Food Policy Council. In 2016, they applied for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Community Pathways grant. Geary County’s application made it to the final round, but ultimately was not successful because they didn’t demonstrate their community’s capacity for implementation. After targeting that area of development for the coalition, they reapplied in 2017 and were successful.
Meanwhile, Andres and the county’s nutrition educators started to educate people who attended the Farmers' Market about SNAP-Ed. In 2016, Geary County implemented Double-Up Food Bucks so that EBT (“food stamp”) participants could receive double value if they purchased fruits and vegetables at Farmers’ Markets. With money from a grant secured by the Geary County WIC program, equipment was purchased to swipe EBT cards and took over the Double-Up Food Bucks program. Live Well Geary County has taken the lead for ensuring the EBT service is available at every Geary Community Hospital Farmers’ Market each year.
Andres says, “It’s really satisfying seeing the impact of these programs. We’ve wrapped our third year at the Farmers’ Market and people are becoming more aware of the opportunity that Double Up gives them to eat well.”
Live Well Geary County saw a need to change the picnic parties to keep them sustainable. As a pilot effort in 2018, the meals became hot meals served at the Grand View community building. They’ve created a system of volunteers to unload the food, the Presbyterian Church stores and prepares the food and rely heavily on the Ministerial Alliance to provide volunteers.
Andres notes that the Live Well Geary County initiative created a “pathway to fitness” event by inaugurating a community run which included the cross country teams, and they worked to create a policy for tobacco-free parks. Andres said, “It takes a large volunteer base to make the work of Live Well Geary County successful. No one person is responsible, but as a group with a shared vision, we are moving forward in our mission of inspiring and advancing policy, systems, and environmental change that make it easier for residents to lead healthy lives.”
Bringing her life experiences as an adoptive mother, Andres built the Modern Parent Initiative which offers parenting classes and works with Pawnee Mental Health, the school system, judicial district, court services, Department of Children and Families (DCF), and Saint Francis Ministries.
Andres’ program development council (PDC) provides guidance and support in planning for their Walk Kansas efforts. Andres says, “It’s a wonderful way to utilize the knowledge, energy and passions of people from across the county.” She is proud of the diversity and professional expertise that is represented in the PDC – a mental health social worker, a case manager, two retired teachers and two nurses. Their quarterly meetings help them stay centered and organized.
Andres says, “If you do policy, systems and environment (PS&E) work, you may not see the outcome of your work for a long time. Change comes hard and it is almost impossible for some to respect that fact.”
There is a lot to learn from the recurring themes you hear when you talk to Deb Andres about her community development work: intentionality and inclusion; hard work and commitment; utilizing data to design programs and initiatives; developing relationships; the value of collaboration; and connecting the data and passions to solve problems and create opportunities.
Thank you Deb Andres, for helping provide the people of Geary County with the education, research and facilitation they need to improve their lives, livelihoods and communities.