April 2, 2009

Mattie Campbell will turn 97-years-young in April. She's sharp as a tack and still maintains a fairly large garden in Breathitt County. She said the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has offered her golden opportunities most of her life and she's still taking advantage of every bit of education and fellowship the local office provides.

"I've been coming to extension programs ever since it (the office) has been on the map," Campbell said smiling. "Many years ago when Mary Scott Moore was an agent here, she taught me about gardens, canning, and she even came to my house to help me with colors and decorating."

On a mild, spring-like day in late March, Campbell was once again at the extension office for a workshop titled "Golden Opportunities." As she sat mixing Epsom salts, essential oils and other items for bath sachets, she admitted she'd never done anything like that before. She said she always likes to keep learning new things and extension has given her plenty of opportunities to do that.

Breathitt County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Martha Yount said the "Golden Opportunities" workshop began in 2007 with a focus on aging issues; however, it's morphed into a program for all ages. This year, agents from eight eastern Kentucky counties, including Breathitt, Wolfe, Owsley, Leslie, Perry, Knott, Letcher and Lee, joined efforts to focus on teaching participants various heritage skills. Included this year were chicken scratch embroidery, woven seagrass footstools, weaving on round looms, stamped tiles, basket making, bath and spa treatments and other crafted items.

"Families are under so much stress during these economic times," Yount said. "We just wanted to offer them some simple things that could help them cope. Hand crafts are a great way to relieve stress and also to build dexterity in the young and old."

Pleasing aromas wafted throughout the building and a tray of cookies sat cooling amid the piles of craft supplies. But they weren't just any cookies. Knott County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Linda Combs taught the ladies how to make bath cookies. They looked like sugar cookies, but the ingredients were not nearly as edible. A medley of cornstarch, Epsom salts, essential oils, eggs and baking soda combined to make the cookies meant only for a relaxing bath. Many of the crafted items could be combined to create an appealing gift ensemble for friends, family, teachers - just about anyone.

Yount said participating in hand crafting also is a great way to keep the brain active.

Most of the participants were simply trying to learn new things, pick up a new hobby or enjoy the fellowship of others at the workshop. Others came to learn skills for fundraisers, small business endeavors and even take ideas back to their own craft groups.

Janet Hounshell of Breathitt County teaches an independent group of crafters a different skill each month.

"What I learn today, I will teach next year," she said. "We always plan a year of projects in advance, so coming to these workshops gives me a lot of great ideas for my own group."

Hounshell said her group meets on the second Saturday of each month and is open to anyone. They usually complete at least one community service project each year as well.

"The workshop is really just an opportunity to learn something new no matter your age," Yount added. "This is for anyone who is interested in life-long learning."