By Melissa Dunson

The only green things in back yards right now is discarded Christmas trees, but that isn’t stopping the University of Missouri Extension office in Carthage from preparing for another round of Master Gardener classes, starting Jan. 26.

The program takes people of varied educational backgrounds through 30 hours of basic horticultural information and then turns them loose to do 30 hours of community-service projects.

This is the 18th year for the program in Southwest Missouri, and Janet LaFon, MU Extension family financial education specialist, said the Carthage program has graduated more than 360 people since its inception.

The course is offered Mondays and Thursdays through the middle of March in the Jasper County Central Annex, at the corner of Central and Lincoln streets. The cost is $95 per person this year. The fee has been discounted due to a donation from the Ozark Gateway Master Gardener organization. Jasper County does only one Master Gardener program a year, and the class size is limited to about 30 people. Pre-registration is required by Jan. 9.

While the Master Gardener program may be the best known service the Southwest Missouri MU Extension offers, it is not the only one. LaFon said the extension’s calendar is already filling up with a variety of recurring and one-time classes for 2009.

“We are many times told that we are the best kept secret in Southwest Missouri,” said Ed Browning, agriculture and natural resource specialist with the MU Extension office in Carthage.

LaFon will also give a presentation on how to prevent identity theft and what to do if someone falls victim to it. The class is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12, at the Monett Library. No pre-registration is required.

LaFon also teaches a recurring class on how to buy a house. It is offered on a monthly basis. The next home buyers’ education class is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the Southwest Missouri Extension office in the Jasper County Courthouse basement.

The class meets the criteria required to be eligible for certain types of home loans. It covers the topics of shopping for a home, basic money management, estimating house payments, understanding the loan process and homeowner’s insurance.

The cost for that class is $60 per individual or couple applying for a loan. Pre-registration is required one week before the scheduled class.

Jinny Hopp, human development specialist with the MU Extension office in Carthage, teaches a recurring class for divorced parents of minor children called “Focus On Kids.” The class is open to anyone, but Hopp said most of the attendees are Jasper County residents who are mandated to be there by a court.

“Most people are angry about being asked to come (to the class),” Hopp said. “But they are happy they did it by the end.”

The class focuses on parents maintaining a healthy relationship with their child during the separation process.

Hopp is also repeating a popular fall class this month with “Stay Strong, Stay Healthy.” The strength-training class is for people who haven’t been to the gym in a while, but want to do something to improve their health. It meets at noon on Wednesdays, starting Jan. 21 and continuing through March 25.

Hopp said all the participants who took the class in the fall saw significant improvement in their flexibility, overall energy and endurance because of the exercises. The class will meet at the MU Extension office in Carthage. It costs $20 per person. Pre-registration is required.

Hopp is also preparing to start a “Prepare To Care” ongoing program for people who will eventually become caregivers. The class is free and meets at noon on Tuesdays in the MU Extension office in Carthage, starting Feb. 10.

Want to enroll?

The Southwest Missouri MU Extension office serves a 16-county region. Classes are open to residents of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. For details or to register for a class, call (417) 358-2158.

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