Each year, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), honors faculty and staff for their outstanding work and outreach through their programs and support. The winners for 2012 received their awards at the joint department luncheon at the Cook Campus Center on Nov. 27.
The Diversity Award is given to a member of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Management Agents (ARMA) and one from the Department of 4-H Youth Development for “their outstanding efforts and accomplishments in achieving and sustaining diversity in Extension organizations, programs, and audiences.” Jan Zientek was awarded the Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) Diversity Award for the ARMA department and Marycarmen Kunicki received the Diversity Award for the 4-H department.
ARMA Recipient of Diversity Award, Jan Zientek
Zientek serves as senior agriculture program coordinator in Essex County, providing support for Master Gardeners and urban and community gardeners. He supervises a highly diverse volunteer group within the Rutgers Master Gardener program. He works with community-based and governmental organizations to develop and deliver his programming. One such notable effort is his partnership with the U.S. Veterans Affairs administration.
A “seed” was planted that led to healing, stress reduction, and innovation—and touched the lives of many veterans and staff. Through a partnership among RCE, the Planetree Corporation, and the Veteran’s Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, veterans have been trained through a green job skills program initially focused on sustainable landscaping and gardening practices. The program’s classroom sessions were reinforced with hands-on organic gardening techniques and planting of drought-resistant native plants around the East Orange Veteran Affairs hospital facility. Participants successfully harvested more than 1,000 pounds of produce in the summer of 2010 alone. The Foxhole Café restaurant on the hospital campus uses the vegetables and culinary herbs harvested from the garden.
Through this effort, Zientek was instrumental in helping participants increase their horticulture skills, overcome personal challenges, and enhance communication, collaboration and support among the veterans.
4-H Recipient of Diversity Award, Marycarmen Kunicki
Marycarmen Kunciki, 4-H program associate and RCE department head in Passaic County, has provided extraordinary programming to at-risk youth and their families. She has expanded programming to teens, after school-age youth, and increased 4-H club programming throughout the county. In addition, she works closely with all 4-H volunteers, including club leaders, AmeriCorps VISTA’s, as well as high school and college students. Kunicki is the club leader for the Passaic County 4-H Teen Crusaders, a club for teens drawn mostly from the urban areas of the county, focusing on community service and improving the areas where the teens live. Many of these youths from communities such as Paterson, Passaic, Haledon, North Haledon and Woodland Park, face economic and educational challenges.
Many of these youths also face high rates of obesity, a family history of diabetes and other medical conditions, which can be improved by changes in eating and physical activity. Kunicki works with 4-H Food and Fitness Ambassadors who are trained in providing fun, educational activities to younger youth and families. The Passaic County administration provides transportation for these teens to attend programs like 4-H Winter Camp, 4-H Summer Science Program, and North Jersey Teen Conference. Some of these same teens now aspire to college or trade school and some have been hired by AmeriCorps to assist with 4-H programs. While it’s a challenge to gain the trust of families in these communities, Kunicki has served as a positive role model for a diverse group of youth, many of whose parents have expressed their appreciation to Kunicki for what the Rutgers 4-H program has done for their children.