Illinois 4-H members step up to serve communities

Girl sits on floor cutting out fabric
Atlanta Ag 4-H Club members made 33 face masks for local first responders.

From 3D printing medical face shields to packing food boxes for students, Illinois 4-H members are honoring their pledges to larger service. Social distancing measures put in place to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented in-person club meetings; still 4-H members have stepped up to safely meet the unique needs of their communities.

Supporting Health Care Providers

Across Illinois, 4-H members have put their sewing machines to good use by making masks for first responders, healthcare providers, and the community members.

In Franklin County, one 4-H club and its leader have made more than 400 masks for local health care providers who are short on personal protective equipment.

In Logan County, Atlanta Ag 4-H Club members Molly and Cavit Schempp made 33 face masks for the Atlanta Fire Department, Atlanta Rescue, and Lincoln Rescue.

In Grundy County, 4-H member Jillian Donkle hand-stitched more than 50 masks she delivered to customers on her newspaper delivery route.

In Sangamon County, Tri-City 4-H Club members Devan and Wyatt Buckles made and donated 35 masks to the Mechanicsburg Fire Department.

In Winnebago County, 4-H clubs and members have collectively made 2,100 masks, as well as cards for hospitals and nursing homes.

Alumnae are even getting involved. Former Piatt County 4-H member Katelyn Ashton sewed more than 50 masks and surgical caps for health care workers in Urbana. The scrub caps have buttons on the side that masks can hook to relieve band pressure on workers’ ears.

STEM-focused 4-H clubs with access to 3D printers and materials have been working to print and assemble face shields as additional personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.  

In Kane County, the got robot? 4-H FIRST Tech Robotics Team in Elgin is raising funds to make more than 1,100 face shields. As long as they have materials, team members have eight printers running nonstop in six homes. The face shields are made with an open-source design anyone with a 3D printer can use.

In Logan County, the Carlock and Schempp families assembled 350 face shields as part of the Atlanta Ag 4-H Club. Half of the masks were sent to Chicago and half are being taken to Louisiana. 

In Champaign County, members of the Ctrl-Z FIRST Robotics Team 4-H Club are using their 3D printers to make 100 face shields for medical staff at local hospitals. "We are trying to have the youth see the benefit of helping others," says Bob Smith, assistant coach and volunteer leader for the club. "As 4-H clubs and FIRST teams, we are trained to jump in and help whenever help is needed."

Addressing Food Insecurity

Before the pandemic, about 1.3 million people in Illinois did not know where their next meal would come from. As a result of job losses and other factors, this number has grown.

In Adams County, 4-H members Courtney and Cody built a custom-made community Hope Box for their town Liberty. People are invited to take what they need and leave what they can.

In Edward’s County, 4-H leaders and members had the foresight to coordinate and pack food boxes just before Illinois’ stay at home order went into effect. With help from volunteers and financial backing from the Farm Bureau Young Leaders, 4-H organized a meal packing event. On March 7, 37 4-H members and volunteers packed 47 food boxes (equivalent to 10,152 meals) with the help of Illinois 4-H Food System Specialist Mark Becker. The boxes were delivered to local food banks and churches.

In Montgomery County, 4-H senior Erin Kistner expanded a high school food program she started last fall. After attending an Illinois 4-H Hunger Ambassador training in 2018, Erin realized food insecurity affected more than 2.3 million rural households including those of her classmates. She worked with 4-H staff and school administrators to set up healthy meal bags students could discretely take home over the weekend. When Hillsboro schools closed their doors in March, Erin knew the need would only grow. “It was more work when COVID-19 hit,” she says. “A lot more food had to be put out.” Erin adapted the program so buses could deliver bags of five meals she had packed directly to students at their homes once a week.

Supporting Vulnerable Populations

In DeKalb County, 4-H members sent letters and cards to residents of the Open Door Rehabilitation Center.

In Lawrence County, a 4-H member stopped by the United Methodist Village, a nonprofit healthcare facility, with her horses to do window visit with residents.

In Rock Island County, Olivia Freyermuth of the Prairie Ramblers 4-H Club handmade notes and cards for neighbors, friends, and elderly family members to brighten their day.

Service is a valued part of the University of Illinois Extension 4-H experience for thousands of youth each year and teaches valuable lessons. 4-H clubs and activities are open to youth ages 8 to 18. 4-H programs are available in all of Illinois’ 102 counties. To learn more, visit

WRITER: Emily Steele, Media Communication Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension

photo of service project
TOP: got robot? 3D printed face masks BOTTOM LEFT: Adams County Hope Box BOTTOM RIGHT: Rock Island handmade notecards