After years of searching to replace the former West Tennessee 4-H camp site at Milan—closed in 2009 due to budget reductions and deteriorating conditions— University of Tennessee Extension officials found a 1,200-acre farm in Hardeman County.

They knew it would be ideal for 4-H camps and other University functions.

Lone Oaks Farm features woods, pastures, lakes and farmland where schoolchildren and people of all ages could gather. The site also could be used for retreats, conferences and meetings by industry and agri-business groups, generating a revenue stream to make the site economically self-sustaining.

Securing funding in 2015 to acquire the site became one of UT President Joe DiPietro’s top priorities. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission agreed and ranked the new center as the top higher-education building project in the state. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the site as part of his proposed budget.

A few legislators thought differently, however. They created a coalition to remove the center from the state budget. That’s when the UT Advocacy program sprang into action. In three weeks, UT students, alumni, 4-H’ers, friends, faculty and staff made nearly 7,500 legislative contacts using email, phone calls and social media posts.

Meanwhile, UT’s government relations team hit the hallways inside Legislative Plaza, meeting with every legislator to explain the importance of the 4-H center.

The representative leading the effort to cut the 4-H site withdrew his amendment, and UT was able to move forward with bringing the state’s newest 4-H facility online for current and future generations of Tennesseans.

“I want everyone, especially our legislators, to know the University of Tennessee is making a difference,” DiPietro said. “We produce research that helps people in their everyday lives. We educate the next generation of innovators, and we build relationships that improve our communities.

“Yet I can’t be the only one sharing that message, if it’s to be most effective. I need every alum, every employee, every friend of the University to sign up to be an advocate and speak up with me. That’s how we get there. That’s how we accomplish change–together.”

Lone Oaks opened on a limited basis in fall 2015 and hosted a science camp for 60 junior high 4-H’ers in October.

Each year, more than 180,000 young people in Tennessee participate in 4-H activities each year and UT Extension’s 300 agents, covering all 95 counties, make 2 million contacts with Tennessee families.