A typical day for Dee Keese starts with a 10-mile walk at 5 a.m. and her morning wraps up with a swim. Although Keese is in her late 70s, her daily routine would not surprise you if you knew what she has been doing for the last 48 years.
For nearly a half-century, Keese has been the 4-H community leader for the Palos Verdes Peninsula (PVP) club in Los Angeles County. A youth development program managed through local University of California Cooperative Extension offices, 4-H uses hands-on learning experiences to empower youth to build self-esteem and connect with their communities as emerging leaders.
“When you're pushing 80, working with young people helps to keep you young,” Keese said.
4-H has been a game changer in many ways
In the 1970s, Keese moved to the Palos Verdes area with her first-born son who had a learning disability. Others treated him differently in school, and it didn't help that he was the new kid in town. A neighbor encouraged Keese to enroll her son in 4-H.
“She told me, ‘You've got to put your son in 4-H so he can feel good about himself,'” explained Keese. “And let me tell you, it changed my life.”
In 1978, two weeks before her fifth child was born, Keese became the 4-H PVP club's community leader and has been in the role ever since.
While reflecting on her earlier days with 4-H, Keese remembered when most members were boys. Girls were not intentionally excluded at the time; clubs just didn't attract them. When girls eventually joined 4-H, it was a game changer.
“All of a sudden, the program shifted focus from solely agriculture and animals to include home economics like cooking and sewing,” Keese said. “Now, all my sons do the cooking in their homes. It's a good thing! Because we're moving away from traditional domestic duties, men and women are sharing roles, as they should be.”
The PVP 4-H club offers activities like archery, sailing, surfing and geocaching. “Everything we do is to help our youth be better as adults, out in the real world and in the workforce,” said Keese. “We're relying on the internet too much. Kids need to get outside and do things.”
Over the years, Keese has taken members – who range in age from 5 to 19 – on numerous hikes in places like Havasupai Indian Reservation and Mt. Whitney. She's taken them kayaking on the Colorado River and, these days, co-hosts old-fashioned card game nights on the weekends with other community members.
As a lifeguard and water safety instructor, Keese gives free training to interested 4-H members to become lifeguards. Training courses usually cost well over $200 per person. “If they're interested, I train them and they have another skill to use. And it benefits our club,” said Keese. “When we have pool parties or beach days, my kids are prepared to step in and help.”
‘She will help anyone and everyone at any time'
Ace Yeck, former president of the PVP 4-H club, met Keese 12 years ago and decided to become a 4-H member when he was in fourth grade, following a convincing conversation with her. “She just kept giving me opportunities,” said Yeck.
Currently a third-year undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University studying entrepreneurship, Yeck credits 4-H for preparing him for college. “I got all my community service and public speaking practice through 4-H. I remember doing beach clean-ups, feeding the homeless, helping out at the Christmas fair, and all kinds of events,” he shared.
During his years with 4-H, Yeck was elected to the state board as an ambassador before he went on to represent 4-H at the national level. “Dee encouraged me every time, so I kept going,” he said.
Keese admitted that her life is so full and fun because of 4-H. Her motivation stems from the growth and progress that her students experience. “My kids let me know when I've done something to impact their life. It keeps me motivated,” she said.
While thinking about the members she's had over the last 48 years, she couldn't help but stress how important it is that they feel safe. Keese recalls one student who is gay and had a challenging time getting his parents to understand because of religious and cultural barriers. “The family's priest called me and told me that this student felt like I was the only one who loved him,” she said.
“I can talk about Dee forever,” said Yeck. “One of her best qualities is that she will help anyone and everyone at any time. She wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to bed at, like, 10 p.m. During that time, she's always helping people,” he added.
Because Keese comes from a different generation compared to the kids in her 4-H club, she attributes her successful impact to her ability to adapt. “If we want to keep kids in this, we've got to be flexible! And you've got to do things they like. We can't do things the way it's always been done before,” said Keese. “We have to be flexible.”
To Keese, 4-H is not just an opportunity to teach life skills or introduce kids to agriculture. It's a chance for them to build community.
“That's what I think my generation does well, having grown up in the '50s and '60s,” Keese said. “We're all about that communal living.”
Along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, atop a small hill, sits a residential community for adults with disabilities. When you get past the gate to Glennwood Houseand look beyond the parking lot, you'll immediately notice the quaint oasis of swinging benches enclosed by vegetables growing in large pots and along walkways.
The garden, which is maintained by the residents, was created in spring 2022 by Monica Mehren Thompson and Robbie Prepas, two UC Master Gardener volunteers of Orange County.
The UC Master Gardeners program is a public service and outreach program of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the efforts of more than 6,000 Master Gardener volunteers across the state, the program is a unique driving force of change in local communities.
Thompson and Prepas completed their 16-week Master Gardener training in 2021 and quickly turned to Glennwood House for an opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills. Troy, Thompson's son, was a resident at Glennwood for nine years, making her decision to develop a garden on the grounds an obvious choice.
“This place is truly magical,” said Thompson.
Prepas agreed and shared that the residents play an active role from beginning to end. “We take the residents with us when we buy seeds so that they can choose what they want to grow,” she explained.
The garden has only experienced two plantings so far: spring and fall 2022. When it's time to harvest, the residents eagerly gather to taste the fresh vegetables and herbs. During the week, dinners are prepared by a professional chef, who incorporates ingredients pulled from the garden.
This will soon change, however. Since the residents enjoy the hands-on opportunity to cook so much, they'll now be in charge of preparing lunch and dinner every Friday. To kick start this shift, the residents prepared a huge salad and spaghetti with vegetable marinara sauce. The meal was a big hit and the residents were so proud of their creation.
“This is an all-out, very sophisticated effort with the Master Gardeners,” said Faith Manners, Glennwood House CEO.
Glennwood House is unlike other residential communities for persons with special needs in that it is home to 46 residents. “It's one of the largest supported-living communities in the U.S.,” Manners said, adding that Glennwood has an enormous waiting list.
According to Janet Parsons, development and facility director at Glennwood House, Laguna Beach genuinely embraces Glennwood residents. “When we're out and about, you should just see how warm and welcoming the community is towards our residents. Everyone is always engaging and smiling,” she shared.
Recently, the Laguna Beach Garden Club caught wind of the community garden at Glennwood and made a $1,500 donation to help fund materials.
Janet Chance, president of the Garden Club, credited Glennwood as one of the few places that caters to adults living with disabilities, commending their ability to cultivate a sense of belonging and integrate them into the greater Laguna Beach community.
While Chance regrets not having the time to become a Master Gardener herself, she attends some of the classes they teach in the Laguna Beach community. “The work they do is remarkable,” she said, adding that the club's recent donation was “one of the best” they have ever made.
Parsons said that it's important for the residents to feel independent. Therefore, the administration and the staff prioritize intentional programming. For example, instead of simple activities like coloring, Glennwood hosts advanced art sessions so that interested residents are learning techniques that will strengthen their artistic capabilities.
The same idea applies to the “farm-to-table” experience Thompson and Prepas have established.
“Just because the residents are living with a cognitive disability, it doesn't mean they're incapable of learning new things,” Parsons said. “They will tell you when something is boring or when they're not interested. So, we try to select activities or programs based on skills, personal interests and goals.”
While being recognized for the positive effect the gardeners have on the residents, Prepas quickly interjected that the real positive effect is the one that residents have on her. “I've learned so much from them,” she said. “They're incredible and so much fun to be around.”
Thompson, whose son lived at Glennwood until he passed away earlier this year, describes the Glennwood community as her family. Seeing Thompson's delight while gardening or cooking with the residents, it's easy to understand what she means.
“My husband has always supported philanthropy,” said Thompson. “But he says this feels like so much more than that. Because it is!”
To learn more about the UC Master Gardener program visit https://mg.ucanr.edu/.
Desert REC program has reached more than 168,000 people thanks to broad community support
“Oohs” and “aahs” fill the classroom as Stacey Amparano, Farm Smart program manager at the Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville, yanks an ear of corn off a stalk. Holding it high in the air, she begins shucking the corn to reveal a bright yellow color.
“It's corn!” yells a member of the audience. Amparano demonstrates how to shuck and shell corn to a group of local kindergarteners, all while explaining its many uses.
Farm Smart, an outreach program focused on agricultural literacy, has educated more than 168,000 people in the Imperial Valley and surrounding areas since its inception in 2001. The program is an integral part of Desert REC – one of nine centers operated across the state by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – and serves K-12 students and their families.
Nestled in the southeastern corner of the state, Imperial Valley is home to over 500,000 acres of farmable land and more than 65 crops, making it an ideal place to teach youth about the valley's significant contribution to California, the U.S., and the world.
“Farm Smart is a reminder to kids that they come from a place that feeds most of the country throughout the year. It's something to be proud of,” said Amparano.
While the younger participants might not grasp the full impact of Farm Smart right away, the community sure does. More than 60% of the program's funding comes from contributions from the community, including local organizations, institutions and families.
“I don't think many people realize that a majority of Farm Smart is funded by the community. It makes this program even more special, that our own community believes in our impact and wants us to keep going,” Amparano said.
For example, the Imperial Irrigation District has supported and funded the program since it began, donating $107,500 in 2022 alone.
“This program has created an awareness of how food is grown, harvested and put on our table,” said Norma Galindo, former IID board director. “It invites participation from the elementary through high school grades and serves as a hands-on experience that is priceless.”
During her tenure, Galindo championed the increase of IID's monetary allocation to Farm Smart and requested that older people be allowed to participate in the same manner as the students. This created an opportunity for Farm Smart to engage a segment of the population that is often overlooked. Like the youngsters, retirees escaping cold weather in northern states can learn about irrigation and soils and pick vegetables to take home.
Valeria Landeros, a community education specialist at Desert REC, grew up in the Imperial Valley and remembers attending a Farm Smart field trip in elementary school. “I remember learning how to milk a cow and make butter and thinking that we traveled somewhere far out of town,” she said.
“Most people who grow up in Imperial Valley and the greater area know nothing about the fields that surround us,” said Clarissa Abarca, another community education specialist at Desert REC.
Similar to Landeros, Abarca participated in Farm Smart field trips during elementary to high school and can attest to the program's ability to modify its content and suit the interest of all ages. As an educator, Abarca gets most excited about instilling an appreciation for agriculture and introducing students to the numerous careers in the sector.
Galindo said that she expects that the IID Board will continue to support this program with crucial funds.
“Any other [county] that emulates this type of program stands to benefit from it, if and when it is done on a long-term and consistent basis. Teaching the city folks about farming is a process, not
an event,” said Galindo.
Farm Smart was selected as a recipient of the California State Future Farmers of America Distinguished Service Award and will be recognized at the upcoming State FFA Conference in March.
To learn more about Farm Smart visit https://drec.ucanr.edu/Farm_Smart/.
- Author: Robert Padilla
In the mid-1990s, Manglallan helped to develop the California School-Age Child Care Center for Action. She led the creation of childcare programs for school age children at parks and recreation centers and has served as the principle investigator on many projects, such as Off to a Good Start and the Afterschool Life Skills Evaluation Project.
In 2009, under Manglallan's guidance, 4-H partnered with the U.S. military to provide youth development activities for San Diego County children of military men and women deployed all over the world. 4-H clubs were chartered in eight military youth centers. Manglallan and her 4-H staff trained the youth center staff, set up clubs and organized military youth activities.
Through the ongoing 4-H military partnership, children of military members participate in leadership projects, community service projects, mentoring programs and sciences projects. They also attend conferences and camps with other military kids throughout the state and the country. Since 4-H has reached out to military youth, enrollment numbers have grown from 500 to the current enrollment of 1,300 children and teens in San Diego County.
Out of these efforts, four focus group meetings were held with local and non-governmental agencies, tribal members, members of the public and current 4-H volunteers. The engaged and lively discussions soon formed the basis for the current 4-H VMO board, which began in 2015 and oversees and directs local 4-H activities.
Since its inception, the VMO has organized and overseen two major fundraising events for local 4-H programming needs. Its annual 4-H golf tournament garners $8,000 to $10,000 per year and the petting zoo at the annual San Diego County Fair brings in $10,000 to $12,000 each year. Additionally, three new traditional 4-H clubs and one spin club have joined the San Diego County 4-H family.
Manglallan began her career as a 4-H agent in 1978 with the University of Arizona before eventually joining UCCE San Diego in 1983.
Over the years, Manglallan's colleagues have sought her expertise and collaboration for research, education and outreach endeavors. In April 2018, she was part of the statewide team UC ANR honored with its Distinguished Service Award for outstanding research in Youth Retention Research. Through her contributions to San Diego's local 4-H clubs and programming over the past three decades, Manglallan has developed a diverse and robust community for youth development and leadership in San Diego.
The UCCE San Diego office congratulates Manglallan on a well-earned retirement and will continue to inspire and train youth through the 4-H program by her example.