Karen Wilson – Extension Master Food Volunteer of the Month

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April is Global Volunteer month, and a great month for us to feature some of our wonderful volunteers in our Extension Master Food Volunteer program. The Extension Master Food Volunteer (EMFV) program provides citizens with an opportunity to extend the work of N.C. Cooperative Extension by providing unbiased, research-based information on food systems, cooking, and food safety to our community. Under the guidance of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Extension Agents, volunteers complete a 30-hour training and service and earn the status of Extension Master Food Volunteer. In 2022, Sampson County hosted their first EMFV training. A total of five volunteers completed the training hours and shadow hours to receive their Extension Master Food Volunteer Certification. In less than one year, over 383 hours have been volunteered in Sampson County Health & Wellness programs. These include programs held in schools, at senior centers, and a variety of adult programs.

Our most active volunteer is Ms. Karen Wilson. Karen has completed over 204 hours to N.C. Cooperative Extension of Sampson County Programs. Residing in Archers Lodge, Karen commutes from Johnston County to help serve the citizens of Sampson. Karen discovered Cooperative Extension in 2020 during the pandemic when many of our programs were virtual. A four-time cancer survivor, Karen came to Extension looking for help. “I struggled with food intake over the last 10 years as I weaved between different treatments, medications and surgeries,” she said. “My gastrointestinal tract was destroyed. It created blood sugar. I became diabetic. The thing you have to change is your intake of food, the same thing you’ve spent 10 years worrying about. I had a hard time getting my numbers down. I went into sepsis four times. I didn’t survive cancer to lose a battle to diabetes.” She participated in our Med Instead of Meds program that was being co-taught by the Sampson and Johnston FCS Agents. She took another class on healthy eating, and one on food safety. She began to incorporate exercise into her daily routine. She learned about meal planning, USDA MyPlate guidelines, and innovative cooking tools like an Instant Pot. “I cooked four cups of vegetables. That was the start,” she said. “I started adding food to my diet. My immune system went up and my blood sugar went down. I started as a 14. I dropped down to 11, then eight. They say 6.5 is ideal.”

Karen’s story is a unique one, and even more so because she became an evangelist for N.C. Cooperative Extension programs. Karen promotes what she learns to everyone she knows; at her church, to her family, and to friends. She decided to join our first cohort of volunteers in 2022. When asked why she wanted to join, “I want to be a student and a helper,” Wilson said. “It’s a passion because of what I’ve seen it do to my body. I want everyone to hear this basic information that NC State provides and clarifies.”

Ms. Wilson gives her all when she volunteers. Running circles around our FCS Agent, Sydney, she is always a step ahead. Between setting up for programs, cleaning as we go, and stepping in to help answer questions if needed, Karen is a valuable asset to Sampson County and N.C. Cooperative Extension as a whole. Always eager to learn, Karen is currently training to become an Extension Master Gardener (in Johnston County).

If you’d like to join our next cohort of Extension Master Food Volunteers and work alongside Karen, email Sydney Knowles at Sydney_knowles@ncsu.edu to be notified of our next training. Thank you, Karen, for all you do for the citizens of Sampson County and NC! We are so fortunate to have you on our team!

*Karen’s statements from this article were pulled from an interview with Simon Gonzalez, Extension Writer. Read his full article featuring Karen Wilson.

Karen Wilson cooking