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4-H members ignite their future leadership path

Youth work with a computer and STEM equipment.

Decatur, Ill.-- Over 100 seventh and eighth grade youth learned ways to improve their leadership skills at the 2023 space-themed 4-H Junior Leadership Conference held Nov. 4-5 at the Decatur Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur.

“This event helps youth from all over Illinois gain a new experience at the state level,” says University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development educator Johnna Jennings. “They gain essential life skills like networking, independence, and all the skills we are hoping for our next generation of leaders.”

Seventeen Youth leadership Team members worked together to plan and lead the conference with the goal of helping youth to feel empowered to go back to their clubs with stronger leadership skills.

“Participants gain confidence and skills they need to step up and start being leaders in their clubs and communities,” says Katie Duitsman, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “It gets them learning about themselves and hopefully gaining the courage to continue to get more involved in their home communities.”

The two-day conference put leadership skill-building into action with space-themed workshops that helped youth to build public speaking skills, learn how to effectively overcome obstacles, and how to be community leader. Team mixing and team building activities helped youth forge new friendships and build their 4-H network.

Part of leading is serving, and attendees also worked together to package 12,744 meals to take back and donate in their home communities after the conference ends.

“I helped plan the community service workshop “says Andrea Schaffnit, a first-year Youth Leadership Team member from Adams County. “This will help teach youth about hunger in their communities and how they can make a difference and impact.”

The conference was organized and taught by members of the Illinois 4-H Youth Leadership Team, a team of uniquely-trained high school and college-aged 4-H members and young adult 4-H alumni.

“The Youth Leadership Team members gain program planning experience that includes everything from budgeting, designing, and leading,” says Duitsman. “They put their leadership skills into practice and are mentors to the participants on site.”

A portion of the conference expenses was covered by the Illinois 4-H Foundation which raises private funds to support the Illinois 4-H program. Additional sponsors included Growmark FS.

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.