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January 6, 2015

From: AgriLife TODAY; Writer: Rod Santa Ana, 956-878-8317,  Contact: Dr. Rick Peterson, 979-845-1877

COLLEGE STATION –  Dr. Rick Peterson has received the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Superior Service Award in the diversity category for his work with Texans with disabilities.

The award is one of the agency’s highest honors, recognizing AgriLife Extension faculty and staff members who provide outstanding service to the organization and to Texans. The award was presented Jan. 6 during the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference in College Station.

“Dr. Peterson has addressed the needs of diverse audiences through innovative programming efforts for children and adults with disabilities and special needs,” his nomination stated. “Through grant writing efforts, he has assembled a team of skilled professionals to provide education and programs to reach such diverse audiences as special-needs children, at-risk parents, children with challenging behaviors, foster/kinship parents, and veterans and agricultural producers with disabilities.”

Peterson has acquired almost $5 million in grants to support these efforts, according to the nomination.

“Dr. Peterson’s efforts have expanded AgriLife Extension’s understanding of the meaning of diversity to include disabilities, conducting inclusive programming that provides that segment of marginalized individuals access to education, resources and networks to improve their lives,” the nomination stated.

“’His programs make a difference in people’s lives,” wrote Dr. Michael Benz, director of the Texas A&M University Center on Disability and Development. “His expansive efforts to provide educational programming to meet the needs of diverse audiences, whether it’s a farmer who needs a tractor lift to get back into his tractor, a teacher who needs to understand how to work with children with special needs, the returning veteran with traumatic brain injury who wants to start farming, or a kinship parent who is trying to parent an abused and neglected child removed from the home, his programming solutions are and have been continually innovative and inclusive.”

Those with disabilities represent the nation’s fastest growing marginalized group and at-risk population, the nomination states. Data reveals that almost 12 percent of the Texas population has a disability, with those over 65 at the highest rate with almost 41 percent.

Tim and Stacey Smith, both of whom are disabled, own an organic vegetable farm in Anderson, and wrote a letter of recommendation for Peterson.

Tim Smith said that through the work of Dr. Peterson and the Texas AgrAbility Project, he and his wife were able to acquire specialized farming equipment and business skills that have helped their operation prosper.

“Without the assistance of the Texas AgrAbility folks, I am not sure we would still be able to farm, and I am certain we would not be able to produce at the level we are,” Smith wrote. “My wife and I sincerely appreciate the assistance these good folks have been able to provide.”