With a group of volunteers playing some fantastic music on air guitars and all greeting one another with faces on their hands, the annual Monroe County Extension dinner celebrated the accomplishments of the Extension's year with the help of special guest Emily Ballance, Med, LPC, Professional Speaker, Counselor and Educator. She delighted her audience with her message of "Finding Humor and Purpose in the Midst of Life's Circus."

As guests entered The Shawnee Inn for the dinner, they were greeted by tables set with jars of salsa as prepared by Janice Robins, Master Food Preserver. They were but a symbol for some of the work done through and with Penn State Extension in Monroe County as Extension's annual meeting and volunteer recognition took place. It marked the end of one program year and the beginning of another as board members were elected and program recognition and highlights filled the evening.

Ballance's message included these key points: "We all have stress in our lives, but one of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce it and to connect with others is by bringing positive, affirming humor into our lives - by that I mean humor that is loving, healing, inclusive and uplifting. That kind of humor gives us hope and energy and helps us deal with situations we can't change.

"If you bring in humor, you'll bring in laughter and there are lots of physiological benefits of laughter."

Laughter, she said, exercises the heart, lungs and abdominal muscles. It also lowers the blood pressure and it increases the intake of oxygen, similar to running, but a lot easier.

She added, "We know humor is beneficial," asking rhetorically, "but how do we get more of it into our lives?"

She gave five suggestions. They included: Reframe difficult situations with humor and creativity - look at things in a creative, positive, humorous way whenever possible. Sometimes it takes a little time and distance to do this, but even embarrassing or uncomfortable moments can be funny, she continued.

Even some of the saddest and most difficult moments of life can have humor in them.

"When we release the tension of life's saddest moments through laughter or crying, we become more receptive to all the good things that life has to offer," she explained, advising her listeners. "Celebrate everything that you can."

"Think of your day as an opportunity to live, love, laugh and share with other people. Be more playful and get together with other people just for fun. If someone gets good news or even escapes bad news, celebrate it. Create a humor bulletin board at work and include the joke or riddle of the week."

"Always look forward to something fun," she advises. "Think about fun, adventurous things you want to do and do them. Don't just talk about doing them. Spend time with people you love. Make it a point to take breaks and vacations. Take time to rest and replenish yourself. Take time to appreciate nature and the outdoors. It will give you hope and reassurance that in the midst of all life's hardships, there is still incredible beauty and serenity in the world."

Another suggestion this speaker from Raleigh, NC, has is, "Create a humor survival kit. A humor journal is a great activity. Write down all the funny things that happen to you. It will be a lot more fun to read ten years from now than a regular journal. Include a list of jokes, riddles, and knock knock jokes…as well as funny books and DVDs."

And in her packet of items all guests received was indeed a compilation of knock-knock jokes.

She advises, "Share humor and laughter with others. Humor is a gift that you give and receive at the same time. The most positive benefits of humor come from sharing it in person with those around us. You don't have to be a comedian. Just look for humor around you - there's plenty."

"You'll never know how much it means to someone when you share positive humor," says Ballance. "It can be just a smile, a joke, a funny story or a little laughter. You may be soothing their pain, connecting with them and giving them hope. And those are some of the simplest and most wonderful gifts we can give."

Recognized for services provided through the year before Ballance's inspiring presentation were: Extension board members; the 4-H Program Advisory Committee; 4-H leaders; Master Food Preservers; Master Gardeners; a Penn State Nutrition Links volunteer; and others who have volunteered for and with Extension locally.

Dr. Doug Arnold, Monroe Extension board president, presided over the meeting opening, with assistance from Alexa Nye, who led the Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H pledge, and the Rev. Robert G. Argot (ret.), who offered the invocation.

Before the various recognitions were announced, Rick Hackett, Extension board member, explained the board member functions and supervised the election of new board members. They are: Claudia Hill, Brodheadsville; Carmela Heard, Kunkletown; and Ed Regina, East Stroudsburg. Re-elected for a second 3-year term was Laurinda Rubin, Stroudsburg. Claudia Hill, 4-H Program Advisory Committee president did likewise for the PAC. Elected to that group was Janet Johnson from Brodheadsville.

4-H educator Sherri Abbruzzi recognized 4-H volunteers who were present, including Dora Arnold, Laura Brennan, Duane Hubbard, Kim Komala, Joy Patterson, Laurinda Rubin, Jennifer Salage, Mindy Seese, Jennifer Smith and Lynn Strunk.

She also presented Years of Service awards. They were given to: Mindy Seese and Jennifer Smith of the Down Home Beef Club in recognition of their first year of service; the 5-year award was presented to Laura Brennan, Pocono Guiding Pups; and recognized for 10 years of service was Lynn Strunk, of the Li'l Bits club.

County extension Director Dawn Olson presented the Master Gardener annual recognitions, including Jeffery Cook of Saylorsburg and Sally Rosen of Pocono Pines becoming certified Master Gardeners, having had 40 hours of education and have now given back 50 hours of service.

She recognized five who have given 100 hours of service. They are Bob Andresen Jr. of Effort, Diane Giffels of Brodheadsville, Bonnie Vogt of Bartonsville, Marilyn Baughman of Saylorsburg, and Janet Robins of Sciota.

Two persons, Jeanne Dustane of East Stroudsburg and Pamela Hubbard of Effort were honored and given a jacket for attaining 500 hours of volunteer time.

Kathryn Lombardo, part-time Program Assistant and StrongWomen instructor reported that 12 municipalities have put up "Young Lungs at Play" signs at their respective recreational areas or parks.

Child care centers, including The Growing Tree, Momma D's Day Care Center, Three Stages Day Care and Faith International Church Latch Key, were recognized for receiving training incentive grants.

Marie Lohman, part-time StrongWomen instructor shared information about that program and its impact. Class sites include Stroudsburg, East Stroudsburg, Trachsville, Brodheadsville, and Pocono Pines.

Master Food Preserver Janice Robins was recognized for her 50 hours of education and 50 hours of volunteer time.

Stephen Hughes, Community Issues/Ag. Enterprise educator, shared how Monroe Extension had become involved in The Garden of Giving in McMichaels and helped get the Garden's chicken project to supply fresh eggs to local food pantries started. He presented founder Tammy Graber with a check for $50 for chicken feed.

Penn State Nutrition Links Nutrition Education Adviser Adele Argot called her husband Bob Argot forward, recognizing him as the program's Volunteer of the Year, recalling how many hours he had given to the PSNL program to drive her to her various classes and supply the lifting power for all her supplies in both Monroe and Carbon counties when she was not allowed to drive nor lift due to a broken bone in her foot.

Dr. Arnold, a life-long Monroe County resident said, "Extension has served Monroe County well," delineating various services Extension has provided, including the hatching of chicks at the West End fair the past year.

"The importance of 4-H can't be overstated," he added, lauding other parts of the overall Extension program as well.

Extension "is very worthwhile," he said, adding that the local staff is "very dedicated."

Rick Hackett lauded the board members as well. They are "dedicated to making it work." Honored for their years of service to the board were: Ray Flad, Stroudsburg; Marie Lohman, East Stroudsburg; Mike Silvoy, East Stroudsburg.