URBANA, Ill. – As public health and government officials consider the next phase of managing the Coronavirus pandemic in Illinois, organizers of traditional summer events and activities are considering options. University of Illinois Extension, the university’s public outreach program that includes Illinois 4-H, is listening carefully and making contingency plans for summer events should restrictions on large group gatherings continue after April 30.
From gardening classes to 4-H project exhibitions, the Extension summer schedule is typically packed with learning workshops, contests, and celebrations. Planning for these activities is well underway, as it is every year at this time, says Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean and director of Illinois Extension. But this year, the shape of those events hinges on whether, when, and how public gathering restrictions may be lifted.
Illinois Extension will follow guidelines established by the governor, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the University of Illinois as it moves forward with planning 4-H summer experiences. The safety of families, volunteers, staff, and the general public comes first.
“Illinois Extension is part of the solution of protecting the health of our residents across the state,” says Nickols-Richardson. “We will not compromise on our commitment to health, but we also support the educational mission and beloved tradition of our summer 4-H shows.These events provide unparalleled opportunities for youth to demonstrate sportsmanship, mastery of skill, and support for their peers and communities.”
A wide range of options are under consideration for 2020 summer 4-H shows. Each option is being evaluated for its feasibility, technical requirements, volunteer capacity, financial and health risks to hosts and participants, and overall benefit to the community and partners.
Lisa Diaz, Illinois Extension assistant dean and director of Illinois 4-H, says “If circumstances interrupt a local summer exhibition, 4-H and Extension staff are working to develop digital exhibitions and other alternatives consistent with social distancing guidelines. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for youth to showcase their projects and display their learning and growth."
Last month, Illinois Extension in-person events through May 31 were shifted online, postponed, or cancelled. No decisions about events after May 31 have been made, except for 4-H overnight camps, which have been cancelled through July 31. Over the past several weeks, Illinois Extension has spoken with many 4-H families and supporters who advocated for delaying decisions about summer 4-H shows, if possible.
For more than 100 years, Illinois Extension has delivered educational programming through in-person meetings, webinars, conferences, camps, and contests. Following the stay-at-home order in March, Extension mobilized staff to transition most in-person events to digital webinars, meetings, podcasts, and videos. To help Illinois families, business owners, and agricultural producers respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Extension staff created more than 400 new educational resources since mid-March, which are available at @go.illinois.edu/ExtensionCOVID19.