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Columbia County 4-H begins new chapter with new leader

Posted: August 16, 2017 - 1:28am
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Kelli Cody is the newly hired Columbia County 4-H agent that will take over after the retirement of Shirley Williamson. The public is invited to meet and greet Kelli from 4 - 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Evans library. SPECIAL
Kelli Cody is the newly hired Columbia County 4-H agent that will take over after the retirement of Shirley Williamson. The public is invited to meet and greet Kelli from 4 - 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Evans library. SPECIAL

A new chapter in the Columbia County 4-H program began Aug. 1 with the introduction of its new director of youth development, Kelli Cody.

Cody, who previously led extension services in Crawford County, near Macon, is taking over as Columbia County agent after the retirement of longtime leader Shirley Williamson.

Cody will assume responsibility for one of the largest 4-H counties in the state, and the key, she said, is staying organized.

In her previous job, Cody served as the agricultural agent, 4-H agent and extension coordinator, and with a staff of two grew the county's previously nonexistent program.

But Cody said it was difficult to keep growing the program without the help of local county leadership.

"I really felt like this year, we kind of hit the capacity for that county. ... I just had a part-time secretary and an AmeriCorps volunteer that was there sometimes, so that was kind of frustrating," Cody said. "I had a lot of things I wanted to do and grow, and I just didn't have the help or support from the county. So that was one reason that Columbia County was appealing. I felt like I could do a lot more and get some things going."

Cody is a Woodstock native who graduated from Valdosta State University with a degree in Environmental Geoscience, which she said was "just really a fancy word for geology."

"I studied rocks," Cody said laughing. "I've been a lot of cool places. I've been to 22 or 23 national parks, and we did field research out in the western part of the United States."

From there, Cody joined the Peace Corps, which took her on a new set of adventures, providing agriculture extension services, similar to her role now, in Africa. It was here she gained her experience with agriculture.

"I traveled to western Africa and was in a little country called Guinea for a year and I did agriculture and environmental work," Cody said. "I worked with farmers and crop rotation and agribusiness and crop diversification, which is funny because I have no ag background at all, but I had an environmental degree and that's kind of the requirement, so it was like a three-month intensive training."

Medical health problems forced her return to the U.S. for recovery, and the Ebola outbreak deterred her from returning overseas.

"I did environmental education for a couple of years. I worked in Toccoa at Blue Ridge Outdoor Education Center and taught kids how to hike and climb and rock climb and forest ecology and snakes and herpetology and all of that kind of stuff," Cody said. "Then I also worked at Callaway Gardens and did the butterfly classes and the gardening classes in the summertime for their groups."

Cody then took a brief stab at a clinical research job in Nashville, Tenn., which she said didn't last long and called it "very boring."

"Ecology education is fun, but it doesn't pay a lot, so I was kind of like, let me try to find something to just make money, but I was miserable in a cubicle for nine hours a day, so that's how I got my job in Crawford," Cody said. "I started looking and I wanted to move back to Georgia."

Now at the helm of a large and growing program in Columbia County that sees more than 2,000 students participate each year, Cody said the key is staying organized.

"It is nice. I think there's a lot more to do, but I think that because I have way more help, that makes a big difference, so it's not overwhelming," Cody said. Recalling the change from Crawford County, she said, "it was a smaller office, a little bit smaller program compared to Columbia County, but still very similar. I wore a lot of hats and had a smaller staff. It's nice to have a big office now and lots of help."

Cody said she hopes to bring more environmental education to the Columbia County 4-H program.

"We have a great conservation park right here," Cody said referring to the wooded area behind the extension office in Appling. "There's a trail and some Boy Scouts made some steps, and that could really use some work."

Cody said she hopes to incorporate several of her own passions into the Columbia County program including Adopt-a-Stream, of which she is a member, and conducting bee pollination classes for children and adults.

"I'm pretty much certified in any environmental ... curriculum (and will) incorporate those things and get kids outside and moving and motivated," Cody said. "I don't like to sit a kid down in a classroom and say ‘Here's a sheet of paper.' So I might incorporate some of that environmental education, too."

But that's looking into the future. Cody said right now she plans to go with the flow and make steady changes as she can. For now, she is concentrating on her first official September meeting.

"We are going to have a volunteer come in and do basic car maintenance and car care and how to change a flat tire, just things that kids need to know in high school," Cody said. "And we also like to plan trips. We are doing a camping trip in October and a camping trip in spring."

Cody said she also plans to start a Columbia County 4-H Facebook page to help with communication with the community, parents and students.

Wrapping up her first few weeks at the helm, Cody said she has enjoyed learning the ropes and all that Columbia County has going on.

"I've enjoyed meeting the parents and the kids and our volunteers and seeing what they're up to and what they have going on for the school year," she said.

 

MEET AND GREET

Come meet Columbia County's new 4-H agent Kelli Cody in person from 4- 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Columbia County Library Evans Branch.

 

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