Virginia Cooperative Extension Director Ed Jones was recently named chair of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, the representative leadership and governing body of Cooperative Extension and an arm of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, a research, policy, and advocacy organization working nationwide on behalf of public universities.

In his new role, Jones will represent 76 land-grant institutions within Cooperative Extension to the APLU as well as to federal agencies, organizations, and the public. Part of his role is to lead the committee in carving out a path for Cooperative Extension to follow in building engagement and matching long-term strategy to that path.

Cooperative Extension is a national education system that operates through land-grant universities in partnership with federal, state, and local governments. As its leadership body, ECOP focuses on emphasis areas ranging from collaborating with federal agencies on subjects like health, water, and food security, to carrying out advocacy messaging on research initiatives.

Jones said he wants to direct much of his focus on the nearly 6 million kids that make up 4-H, the largest youth development organization in the U.S., as well as young people the organization has yet to reach.

“Every kid should have an opportunity to be in a program that helps them grow and to feel that they have hope and a future,” said Jones. “With 4-H, we have the ability to be the program that is communicating with and empowering youth from every corner of the state at an early age.”

As Extension’s youth development organization, 4-H acts through Extension specialists, county and city agents, volunteers, and other state, regional, and local actors to provide kids with the experiential learning opportunities and life skills to pursue their passions in academics and careers. Locally, 4-H programs are offered in clubs, camps, and after-school and in-school programs, connecting youth to subjects like health, agriculture, STEM, and civic engagement.

4-H is unique in its reach, which extends to a wide range of communities and population demographics. In Virginia, 27.4 percent of the program’s current membership of more than 217,000 young people are underrepresented youth. Enrollment by gender is equally split, and 4-H provides programming for young people in urban, suburban, and rural communities alike.

Opportunities abound with that kind of reach, said Jones. As students come up through 4-H, Extension can connect them to experiential learning opportunities at the university level.

“There are multiple university programs, research opportunities, and outreach programs in which faculty want to go into a community or a school system to try a new curriculum or any host of things,” said Jones. “Extension can help connect them to students. We have those relationships at the local level. We have opportunities that we haven’t yet explored.”

For Jones, increasing 4-H’s positive youth development impact goes beyond tapping into opportunities to empower its existing membership. Jones said Extension and 4-H must ensure that the latter’s makeup reflects the growing diversity of the nation’s youth, a message he shared in an editorial co-penned with National 4-H president and CEO Jennifer Sirangelo.

“I have eight grandchildren, and thinking about them reminds me every day of why I do what I do,” said Jones. “All youth are welcome. We need to reiterate that message – and act on it. If we’re not paying attention to what happens with youth, the other pieces don’t really much matter.”

Jones will pull from previous experience as co-chair of ECOP’s 4-H leadership committee during his time as chair. Jones has also held leadership positions in the Extension Disaster Education Network, the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, and the Southern Region Program Leader Network. Jones has served as director of Virginia Cooperative Extension and an associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences since 2011.