For the past 20 years, the Spalding County has been without a University of Georgia Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) agent. Sweda filled that gap last December when she joined the local Extension staff.
Wade Hutcheson, coordinator of the Spalding County Extension office, said the position was eliminated during a time period when the state was undergoing drastic budget cuts.
“We lost the funding for the position on the state side and then, eventually, we lost the funding from the county budget,” he said.
In an effort to reinstate funding for the FACS agent position in Spalding County, community leaders prepared a report that identified FACS-related needs in the county.
“A health survey showed that Spalding County was one of the unhealthiest counties in the state. Some 22 percent of local residents live at or below the poverty line, unemployment is 1.6 percent higher than the state average, 36 percent of mortgages are underwater and 29 percent of the residents receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits,” Hutcheson said. “A FACS agent teaches individuals and families how to stretch limited food dollars; manage their debt; and understand their credit, saving and investing.”
Spalding County’s biggest need was identified as health education, Hutcheson said. Almost one-third of the adult population is obese and over one-third of the population is at risk for foodborne illness.
“As with several local initiatives over the years, community partners in Spalding County rallied to see the local FACS county agent position filled. Cindee is now on board and busy teaching cancer prevention cooking classes, several classes at the senior center and more,” Hutcheson said.
A native of Chicago, Sweda holds a degree in home economics education from Eastern Illinois University. She joined UGA Extension as a 4-H program assistant in Rockdale County when her family moved to Georgia in 2003. In 2007, she became the FACS agent there. In 2013, she transferred to the Cobb County Extension office.
“In Rockdale County, I was heavily involved with 4-H and I led a lot of senior citizen activities,” she said. “Moving to Cobb County was good because working in a large metropolitan county gave me a new and different perspective. I learned in Cobb County that I had to go where the people were instead of having the people come to me. And in Cobb County, not everyone knew about Extension, so I had to introduce people to UGA Extension and what we do.”
In her new position, Sweda presented programs at the Griffin-Spalding County Library, the Salvation Army and the Spalding County Senior Center.
At the senior center, she taught a six-week diabetes program and has an ongoing “Cooking With Cindee” class where she presents a nutrition lesson and food demonstration.
She taught a “Cooking for a Lifetime” cancer prevention class at the Salvation Army.
“The participants took home the message that routine, yearly screenings for cancer are important and services are available for those in need,” she said.
Sweda also teaches classes at the local Extension office. She recently taught two canning classes on boiling-water canning and pressure canning that were well received.
“We had a lot of experienced canners who wanted a refresher and others who were new to canning (take the classes),” she said. “Fruits, pickles, salsas, and jams and jellies can be prepared using the boiling-water process, but vegetables and other low-acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner.”
Local businesses also benefit from Sweda’s employment as the new FACS agent. She can teach the state-required food safety classes for food service providers, and child development trainings that child care providers need. In Spalding County alone, there are 18 licensed child and family care facilities and 275 food service establishments. With Sweda teaching these classes locally, these food service managers and family and child care providers no longer have to travel outside the county to fulfill the state’s training requirements.
Sweda is also available to present chronic disease management and health and wellness programs to employees of local businesses.
Meeting needs across the county keeps Sweda busy. On June 1, she got some help thanks to the addition of an Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) assistant to the local Extension staff. EFNEP Program Assistant Chelsea Howell delivers programs geared toward evidence-based needs in Spalding County. A Spalding High School graduate, Howell is currently a student at Gordon State College.
For more information about Spalding County FACS classes, call the Extension office at 770-465-4225 or visit extension.uga.edu/county-offices/spalding.