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Extension educator stresses value of partnerships, paying it forward

Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services hines-banner-todd-johnson.jpg
LaDonna Hines celebrates her OSU Extension achievement with family during an awards presentation in Stillwater. From left: Daughter-in-law Lexy, grandson Ezekiel and son Zach Dunlop; son Chad Dunlop; LaDonna and husband Bobby Hines.
Oklahoma County Director LaDonna Hines receives the 2022 Oklahoma State University Extension Distinguished Educator award.

Oklahoma County Director LaDonna Hines has been named the 2022 Oklahoma State University Extension Distinguished Educator. She recently was recognized during an awards presentation in Stillwater.

The Distinguished Educator award is the most prestigious title attainable by a county educator, district program specialist or area specialist. Distinguished educators serve as role models for other Extension educators and are expected to uphold the highest standards of OSU Extension. The recipient must have conducted a strong county, district or area program and established a state, regional or national reputation as an outstanding educator.

“We are pleased to recognize LaDonna’s distinguished career in Extension with this honor reserved for a select few,” said Damona Doye, associate vice president of OSU Extension. “She does exemplary work and is a role model for others. She has been innovative in advancing the Extension mission and stands out for her vision and service to Extension in her local community, in the state and nationally.”

Hines is a registered dietician who joined OSU Extension in 2001 as the Community Nutrition Education Program area coordinator for the northwest district. She also served five years as the Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Youth Development educator in Oklahoma County before assuming the role of county director in 2009.

Hines’ career has presented a wealth of fulfilling educational opportunities to help communities thrive and Oklahomans acquire valuable life skills.

“The services we provide are priceless, and I’ve learned the importance of building relationships with state legislators, county commissioners, budget boards, commodity groups and city government,” she said. “It is very rewarding each day to serve and make a difference in the world.”

“It has been refreshing to see the strong relationships LaDonna has developed with Oklahoma County elected officials,” said Claude Bess, OSU Extension director for the southeast district. “She is highly respected by local officials and regarded as a leader in the county.”

Hines leads an office of 17 employees and more than 400 volunteers while assisting educators with programming and curriculum development. Her dedication to the role is evident in the many projects she has helped established over the years, including the Master Wellness Volunteer Program in 2017. She, along with a group of OSU Extension specialists, obtained funding to train FCS volunteers on how to incorporate health and wellness habits into their daily lives.

As the Oklahoma County Extension director, Hines is active in all program areas, including horticulture, urban agriculture and natural resources. She assists 4-H educators with water conservation programs made possible through a five-year grant secured from the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. The project received the Oklahoma Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Environmental Education Award and the OSU Extension State Outstanding Team Award in 2020.

“Since 2019, we have created and delivered 24 different innovative water conservation programs and reached 4,414 participants,” Hines said. “I’ve got an awesome team, and when they have a win, I have a win.”

In addition to securing program funding, she regularly partners with local media to recognize 4-H members and their outstanding community service projects. Hines has completed the OSU Advanced Leadership Program and OSU Extension Mentor Training. She is a member of Oklahoma Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, CE-FCS Ambassadors and National Urban Extension Leaders.

“LaDonna is nationally known in urban Extension,” Bess said. “The organization’s mission is to advocate and advance the strategic importance and long-term value of urban Extension activities, and she has done a tremendous job in this capacity.”

Hines has also been instrumental in the creation and design of a unique farmers market concept scheduled to debut in northeast Oklahoma City in May.

“In the next two or three years, I envision this market feeding the community and providing an additional outlet for farmers to sell their produce,” she said. “When our office moved to northeast Oklahoma City in 2015, it was a food desert. The legacy I want to leave is one of establishing a food access hub for residents many years into the future.”

Outside of her OSU Extension responsibilities, Hines enjoys spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren. She has devoted 20 years to OSU Extension and views her team members as close as family. When asked what advice she has for younger peers, she suggested making the most of the organization’s potential for community partnerships.

“There’s always networking and opportunities for programming,” Hines said. “My biggest weakness is my big heart, but it’s also my greatest strength. I like to give back and pay it forward when I can, and when you have a great staff like I do, you want to work hard for them.”

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