Family and Consumer Sciences County Extension Agent Jana McKinney estimates she has saved McPherson County residents around $525,000 over the past three months.
As an agent for the McPherson County K-State Research and Extension office, McKinney is constantly educating the public about issues big and small — from insurance and estate planning options to how to get rid of the odor of burnt popcorn or a skunk's spray.
"It's just a broad variety of things and I think that's why I like it so much," McKinney said.
Following in the steps of her grandmother and parents, McKinney started in the 4-H program in Scott City as soon as she was old enough, and it left an indelible mark on her life.
"I just had great county extension agents in my life who cared about me and who helped me grow as a person and develop those life skills," McKinney said.
One of her memories from her years participating in 4-H involved being in a parade and making a float that said, "Orange you glad you're in 4-H," featuring an orange made from chicken wire stuffed with orange napkins.
"On the day of the parade, it rained, and of course we were all orange from those napkins," McKinney laughed.
A University of Idaho graduate, McKinney did an internship with an extension office in that state before moving to Sharon Springs in 1985.
"I learned so much in Sharon Springs that you can't learn anywhere else," McKinney said.
In 1986, McKinney moved to McPherson and would spend the next 14 years as the 4-H Youth extension agent.
"I knew what the county extension program could do and how they could be helpful for people," McKinney said. "It has been a wonderful career for me to raise my children and be able to support my family."
Investing in people is a main focus of McKinney's career, and she has seen the children who were involved in 4-H grow up to have their own children.
"We just try to be an educational, informational resource to people in the county," McKinney said.
McKinney switched to Family and Consumer Sciences in 2000. The broad scope of that position keeps her busy teaching about food safety, nutrition, health issues, technology and a range of life skills, from doing laundry to basic car maintenance.
"There's just so much that we're not learning, not teaching, not grasping," McKinney said. "If we don't have the answers, we know where to send them to get the answers."
The services and answers McKinney provides are often given out free of charge and, unlike many tips found online, have been researched by experts.
"I am not afraid to say, 'I don't know,' because I don't want to give anybody wrong information or misinformation," McKinney said.
From Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, McKinney worked with hundreds of McPherson County residents looking to enroll in Medicare.
"This year, $525,000 was saved by the 580 people that came through this office in that six-week period," McKinney said.
McKinney said she has stayed in McPherson because of the people she serves and the executive council boards who have assisted her in her work.
"They just have been very supportive and worked hard to make extension strong in McPherson County," McKinney said. "Our county commissioners have been excellent supporters of our extension program and understand the value of what it does to give back to the community."
Having worked in the extension office for more than 30 years, McKinney feels she has built up a bond of trust with many families in McPherson County.
"I just loved it. You get to meet different people, you get to develop relationships, you get to help your community and you just have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives," McKinney said. "Public service has been very rewarding for me."
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.