Skip to main content
Our Illinois 4-H Story

When the why is as special as the what

They do it because someone did it for them.

They do it because their parents modeled the behavior and created a mindset in them that helping others is important.

Mainly, they do it for Deb. Debra Hagstrom has led the Illinois 4-H equine program for years as Extension equine specialist. In addition to hosting the annual contest, she mentors the young people advancing to national competition in horse judging, speaking, horse bowl, and Hippology. That one-on-one time creates lasting bonds with the young people going through her programs.

"I come back for Deb," said Carrie Huff, a 4-H alum who competed on the 2008 state team. "I wouldn't have gotten all those experiences without Deb's help."

4-H is like that because 4-H is all about building relationships that matter … matter so much that you cross miles (rivers and pastures) just to be together. Carrie was joined on campus April 13 by Allison Huff, Danielle Neisendorf, and Dana Taylor who were all assisting Hagstrom at the state 4-H horse contests.

"Deb said once we start, we can't leave," Dana said, and the young women laugh knowing that they also come because it's fun to be reunited with people who share common experiences.

"4-H friends are the best because you can pick up right where you left off, even if you only see each other once a year," Danielle said.

The women are walking billboards for Illinois 4-H and credit the youth development organization for their success today. Allison was club treasurer; now she's a CPA. She competed on the 2004 state horse teams and says that in addition to responsibility and leadership, 4-H horse projects taught her life isn't always fair.

"Some days, the horse may not perform as you want," Allison said, regardless how much you practice and how much you want to succeed. For her sister, Carrie, 4-H is the reality check that "you have to work for what you earn."

Dana manages a veterinary practice and said she learned leadership and agriculture in 4-H. "4-H teaches life skills that I use in my job daily. Now is our time to give back because people were there to help us."

Danielle, the most recent graduate of the four, admits that being in 4-H requires young people to juggle many things. "4-H taught me to manage my time, and do it well."

To compete at the state level requires hard work, dedication, and a commitment to spend hundreds of hours studying all facets of the equine industry. Regardless of each member's final placing, there was a buzz of enthusiasm.

"The vibe this year was so positive and uplifting," one parent said at the end of the contest. "The coaches and teams were interacting and laughing with one another. Our kids with accommodations came out feeling successful and positive, and all the kids who competed were so classy. It was such an amazing, positive memory."

Deb does that, creates amazing, positive experiences and memories that last a lifetime.


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.