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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Let them eat cake

Sometimes we take for granted the simple, everyday, every-year things which make our lives complete. Take birthdays. We all have them, but 4-H members learned that many of their peers don't get to enjoy birthdays in the same way the 4-H youth do.

Food pantries often lack the simple ingredients for a birthday celebration, so 4-H members around the state went into party mode. Clubs in Warren, Henderson, Kendall, DuPage, Kane, Peoria, Macoupin, Grundy, Franklin, Tazewell, and Monroe counties prepared more than 760 birthday bags and distributed them to local pantries and helping agencies.

The bags included everything needed for a birthday celebration— cake mix, frosting, candles, hats, toys, party supplies, birthday cards, plates, napkins, balloons, candy, and party favors. The response has been overwhelming, said Tara Chenoweth, University of Illinois Extension 4-H program coordinator in Warren and Henderson counties. Tara accepted a challenge from the state 4-H office to organize a birthday box program. Her efforts resulted in 250 birthday boxes. Other counties soon joined the party!

"Our local effort was part of the 4-H True Leaders in Service this spring," said Deanna Roby, 4-H youth development educator for University of Illinois Extension. "Nineteen DuPage, Kane, and Kendall County 4-H clubs each partnered with a charitable organization in the area, collected the birthday kit items, and delivered the completed kits."'

"Every child would like a cake on their birthday," said DuPage County 4-H leader Sandy Murray when she told Opportunity Getters 4-H Club members about the project this spring. "We would be providing that for children who otherwise might not get one."

"4-H members learned how easily birthday celebrations may be eliminated when families do not have the means to have extra treats or celebrations," said Tina Heidrich, Kendall County 4-H leader with Barn and Beyond 4-H Club. "They also were reminded of how a simple act of kindness and working together can create a positive difference in many lives— often the lives of children just like themselves."

Giving back is an important part of the 4-H experience. "One of the four H's in 4-H stands for 'hands to larger service,' " said Roby. "4-H members are encouraged to develop and practice skills to be helpful to others."

"By participating in community service activities, 4-H members gain a sense of pride, empathy, tolerance, understanding, compassion, and accomplishment," said Heidrich. "This project was a winning opportunity for everyone – for those in each 4-H club to work together as a team for a positive outcome, for the food pantries that now have an exciting surprise to make available to their guests, and for the recipients who will be celebrating, enjoying, and having fun on a truly special day."


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.