Published on 02/21/24

Metro Atlanta Extension office growing capacity to reach diverse audiences

By Sameeka Prabath Rajamani
Gwinnett County Extension increases diversity
The Gwinnett County Extension office is increasing its capacity to reach diverse audiences through funding from the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. The additional funds are being used to hire multilingual Extension educators to deliver programs in Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese. 

Gwinnett County, the second-most populous county in Georgia, is experiencing a rapid surge in population — jumping more than 26% since 2010 — bringing with it both opportunities and challenges.

As the county's populace approaches the 1 million mark, with a highly diverse demographic profile, its University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office is preparing to serve its changing constituency in new languages. Recently, Gwinnett County Extension received a $250,000 budget increase from the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners to increase staffing and expand community educational outreach and engagement to underserved groups.

UGA Extension faculty, who are experts in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and youth development, provide free or low-cost education to residents in all 159 Georgia counties. In every county, local governments partner to fund and deliver Extension programming, but a targeted, one-time increase of this size is rare.

Gwinnett County Extension Coordinator Pam Bloch is excited about the hiring opportunities the new funding presents.  

“Gwinnett County has become more and more of a cultural melting pot. It became a point where we just really needed to address it and find a way,” she said, adding that language barriers have made delivering effective programming difficult. “Not being able to speak the language, we are not able to effectively help the community. The county has a very large demographic of people that are not fluent in English.” 

Gwinnett County Extension seeks to build trust with more communities by expanding its multilingual staff. Through its three program areas, 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Family and Consumer Sciences, Extension offers education and resources that include topics like nutrition, gardening and even parenting. While the office currently offers full programming in English and Spanish-language programming in Family and Consumer Sciences, it hopes to expand its Spanish-language Agriculture and Natural Resources programming, add Korean and Vietnamese programming in Family and Consumer Sciences, and broaden its educational offerings in schools in all program areas, including Georgia 4-H.

By opening lines of communication to Spanish-, Korean- and Vietnamese-speaking communities, Extension can create events and resources tailored to different populations, Bloch said. 

Securing support 

To request the funding increase, Bloch developed and submitted a “decision package” to the county commissioners, creating a detailed plan for how the money would be used, including the programs and services the office wanted to offer and the communities the agents and educators wanted to reach.  

The funding will focus on expanding the communities Extension can reach through hiring multilingual staff and increasing the educational programs Extension staff provide in Gwinnett County classrooms from elementary through high school. Currently, three staff members are fluent in Spanish and one is fluent in Korean. The office is seeking to hire two full-time program assistants, four part-time program assistants and two part-time administrative assistants who are fluent in Korean or Vietnamese. The funds will go toward the salaries, benefits and training for the new staff educators being hired this year. 

“Educators were designed as part-time staff who could essentially go into the classroom and deliver any of the three program area curriculums, so they are a little bit more well-rounded,” Bloch said. 

Tina Fleming, the director of community services for Gwinnett County, was a strong supporter of the funding increase. “Not offering programs in agriculture and natural resources in Spanish was a deficit to the workforce development here in the community, and we know that our community can thrive when we are developing and working through that workforce development,” Fleming said. “By offering programs in additional languages, we're meeting the needs of those residents, and we're also helping with the economy. As our residents continue to thrive, then our businesses will thrive.” 

Gwinnett County staff plan to expand multilingual professional development programs, including ServSafe Training and the Pesticide Safety Education Program.

Expanding programs

Creating new programs for populations they have not worked extensively with will be a challenge for Gwinnett Extension staff, who are collaborating with organizations already working with diverse populations to promote new Extension initiatives by translating existing programs for delivery to different communities. 

When creating new outreach programs, the office hopes to gain a robust understanding of the diverse communities that make up the county.

“If we were doing a cooking demonstration, culturally we also have to start looking at what ingredients we are using, and whether they are the ingredients that the population typically may or may not use,” Bloch said.  

Gwinnett Extension has been working with the Latin American Association in the county on programming and has plans to work with the Gwinnett County Public Library to offer a series of three nutrition programs in both English and Korean. 

“The opportunity to be able to reach new audiences is huge for us,” said Bloch. “We’re all really excited about the opportunity for something new, something different, and knowing we’re reaching new audiences to help whole new groups of people.” 

For over 100 years, UGA Extension has provided Georgia communities with reliable, science-backed resources based on the latest university research. To learn more about expanded programming in Gwinnett County, watch the interview on UGA Extension's YouTube channel. To learn more about how Extension can help in your community, visit

Sameeka Prabath Rajamani is a student writer for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.