URBANA, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension helps help families, businesses, and community leaders develop the skills people need to address local problems and build better futures. Award-winning staff were honored during the organization’s virtual annual conference held Nov. 19.

Program Evaluation Award
Ashley Belle, environmental and energy stewardship educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties, received the Excellence in Program Evaluation Award. The award recognizes overall excellence in ensuring evaluation of Extension programs to primarily determine the impact of the programs on participants, as well as determining program improvement. Continuous evaluation of her programs has allowed Belle to develop and deliver high-impact educational programming to accommodate diverse audiences. By tailoring programming needs to local communities, her programs have experienced continual growth over the last three years. Belle’s program evaluations reveal that, through positive changes in the knowledge and behavior of participants, long-term measurable outcomes are being realized.

Extension Excellence Award
Michelle Cox, 4-H youth development educator serving Lake and McHenry counties, received the Extension Excellence Award for her work in designing and implementing the Life Skills for Leadership program which addresses current issues and increases opportunity for youth in low socioeconomic status areas to engage in activities that build leadership capacity. Using University of Missouri’s Tackling the Tough Skills curriculum as a foundation, Cox developed a 10-week program that actively engages youth in building leadership capacity. Cox piloted the program in two urban high schools. By incorporating attributes from the Tackling the Tough Skills curriculum while integrating sessions designed to build on leadership, Cox was able to help youth identify and understand who they are, where they want to go, and how to get there successfully.

Peggy Doty, energy and environmental stewardship educator serving Boone, Dekalb, and Ogle counties, received the Extension Excellence Award for her research-based natural resource education to youth throughout the state. Doty’s passion resonates in her presentation as she helps translate science-based information in terms easily understood by all learners. Doty continually seeks new revenue streams to support her work while conserving annual grants. She has taught generations and says she looks forward to continuing her work teaching people about their role in the future of the environment.

Extension Excellence in Diversity Award
Six staff were recognized for their accomplishments resulting in organizational changes that support diversity, pluralism, and innovation. The Race Matters webinar team of Karla Belzer, Amanda Cole, Michelle Cox, Susan Glassman, Durriyyah Kemp, and Deloris Walker received the Extension Excellence in Diversity Award. The Race Matters webinar series was developed in response to the injustice, frustration, and sadness team members were observing in their communities this year. Its goal was to raise awareness among Extension staff, to enable staff to take on new roles as allies, and to support positive change, moving towards justice and inclusion in the work Extension performs in all communities. 

Excellence in Mentorship Award
Shelby Crow, county Extension director serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties, received the Excellence in Mentorship Award in recognition of the positive impacts she has made, not only in her local community, but regionally and statewide, as well. Demonstrating a strong commitment to providing effective mentorship, Crow is resourceful, supportive, and responsive, playing an impactful role in guiding colleagues towards continued professional success.

Office Support Excellence
Erin Estes, office support specialist serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties, received the Office Support Excellence Award in recognition of efforts contributing to the success of Extension programming. Estes supports multiple program areas in her unit where her work ethic and attention to detail is highly valued by her colleagues. Her unwavering passion for Extension programs and the communities she serves make her a true ambassador for Extension and its myriad programs.

Annette Cole, business administrative assistant serving central Illinois, received the Office Support Excellence Award in recognition of her critical role in the recent transition of an Extension unit. Cole is widely respected and appreciated by all county directors in the region and provides a high level of support to the entire region. As a trainer for new Extension staff, she consistently sets an example of professionalism. A caring and compassionate member of the Region 2 team, Cole truly embodies the Extension mission.

Program Support Excellence Award
Sarah Attig, 4-H program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties received the Program Support Excellence Award for her attention to detail, extensive job knowledge, and unmatched reliability. Her passion and creativity were highlighted this year when the spring butterfly school program was at risk of cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attig successfully transitioned the in-person program to a virtual experience in order to reach area youth during the stay-at-home order. Her efforts garnered the attention of National 4-H Council which highlighted the program on its website.

Excellence in Technology Award
Andrew Holsinger, horticulture educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties, received the Excellence in Technology Award in recognition of his video production work, including the addition of closed captioning to video uploads on the horticulture YouTube channel. He has been instrumental in introducing various technology platforms to the horticulture team during the transition to remote work. Holsinger provides horticultural education for gardeners of all ages and skill levels. He offers expertise in pruning techniques, plant identification, tree fruit culture, and using technological methods for teaching. Additionally, he is responsible for offering leadership to the training and educational needs of the Master Gardener program in the four-county area. 

Interdisciplinary County Unit Team Excellence
Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope, Saline, and White Counties

Bronwyn Aly, local food systems and small farms educator, and Robin Johnston, SNAP-Ed work program participant, both serving Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope, Saline, and White counties, received the Interdisciplinary Unit Team Excellence Award for their program From Orange to Green, a USDA funded project that provides a series of credentialed, non-credit agricultural, nutritional, and business training programs to low-resource and veteran prison offenders. Among the specific offerings were Master Gardener training, Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers, SNAP-Ed “Eat Smart Be Active” (ESBA Certification), USDA MyPlate, Pesticide Safety Education Program Applicator training, and Mastering the Marketplace. These existing educational programs were synthesized to create a continuum of learning over a 50-week period of instruction for offenders at the Vienna Correctional Center.

Livingston, McLane, and Woodford Counties
A team of Extension educators serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties received the Interdisciplinary Unit Team Excellence Award. Staff recognized include Kelly Allsup, horticulture educator, Rachel Benn, nutrition and wellness program coordinator, Brittnay Haag, horticulture educator, Jenna Smith, nutrition and wellness educator, and Reid Young ag and natural resources program coordinator. The team worked collaboratively to address food access, food safety, and food production. The team developed two new programs: Backyard Gardening and Garden in a Bucket. With intentional focus on gardening, the team reached new and underserved audiences, elevating capacity for families to grow, prepare, and access food locally.

Program Area Team Excellence
A team of horticulture educator received Extension’s Team Excellence Award for collaborative work around the Good Growing educational program. Chris Enroth, Andrew Holsinger, Kenneth Johnson, and Katie Parker develop the program's content. Good Growing is a multi-faceted media platform featuring weekly print media, blog, podcasts, videos, and webinars as a comprehensive source of Extension information. Through their considerable efforts, Good Growing is a leading Extension programming effort. It ranks first in horticulture blog views for Illinois Extension. Together, the educators have inspired and acted on novel ideas to successfully reach local, regional, state and even global program audiences.

About the Winners

Ashley Belle, environmental and energy stewardship educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties, focuses on environmental and energy stewardship. She demonstrates the value of her programs to stakeholders in this area. Her partnership with the C.E.F.S. Economic Opportunity Corporation, which works to increase energy efficiency engagement in underserved communities, was recognized as an Ameren Illinois Energy Innovator Award.

Michelle Cox, 4-H youth development educator serving Lake and McHenry counties, addresses current issues and increases opportunity for youth in low socioeconomic status areas to engage in activities that build leadership capacity. Cox helps youth identify and understand who they are, where they want to go, and how to get there successfully.

Karla Belzer is an Extension educator serving Carroll, Lee, and Whiteside counties. With a focus on family life, Belzer provides research-informed, outcome-oriented programming on life issues affecting families with children, adults and individuals as they age. Delivering education content and programming in many life wellness areas, she is most passionate about empowering others to be their best selves. Belzer is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) by the National Council on Therapeutic Recreation Certification, Real Colors facilitator, Better Brains for Babies educator, Matter of Balance leader, Chronic Disease Self-Management/Diabetes Self-Management class instructor, and a Mindful Schools educator. Belzer is also trained to implement and facilitate Community Action Poverty Simulations from the Missouri Community Action Network and All My Money financial management programs from University of Illinois Extension.

Amanda Cole is a county Extension director serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties.

Susan Glassman, an Extension educator serving Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall, and Putnam counties, uses her education, experience and expertise to help people improve their health by offering evidenced-based programs that offer knowledge, develop awareness and build skills for positive behavior changes. In the Nutrition and Wellness program, Glassman promotes food safety, food preservation, chronic disease prevention and management, and nutrition and wellness education through classes, blog posts and virtual presentations. She fosters relationships for food access and coalition-building through the development of nutrition policy and food systems. Glassman also administers programming at the Extension Education Center and Community Teaching Kitchen in LaSalle.

Durriyyah Kemp, an Extension educator serving Cook County, provides leadership in social and emotional learning, investing in school staff, parents, students, community leaders, and organizations. Kemp’s work in Extension began as a youth development educator providing educational programs throughout the northeast region of Illinois. She served as chairperson of the statewide Social and Emotional Learning and Healthy Relationships Committee. She presently works closely with members of the STEM Team to focus on the integration of social and emotional learning and overall academic success at the K-12 level. Kemp also provides training in the areas of emotional intelligence, personality assessments, staff development, teambuilding, understanding diversity and inclusion in education, and educational leadership.

Deloris Walker is an Extension educator serving Grundy, Kankakee, and Will counties. Walker contributes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) as an educator and as a cultural competence and diversity, equity, and inclusion facilitator for Illinois Extension. In the latter role, she facilitates conversations that help participants reflect on their experiences, beliefs and norms, then recognize how those things impact the way they view and interact inter- and intra-culturally. Walker works to make an impact on racial equity and social justice through challenging policies, practices, and norms that support and perpetuate systemic and institutional racism within the University and among University stakeholders. Walker is a Certified Health Education Specialist, as well as a member of the Illinois Public Health Association, Illinois Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, the University of Illinois Black Faculty and Professionals Alliance.

Peggy Doty, Extension energy and environmental stewardship educator serving Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle counties, was honored for dedicated and innovative work in natural resource education. Doty’s Extension career spans 21 years. Her prior awards include the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Northern Illinois University’s College of Education in recognition of contributions to the field of outdoor and environmental education. Doty serves as co-chairperson for the DeKalb County Community Foundation’s Land Use committee and associate director on the DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

Shelby Crow, county Extension director serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties, was honored by Illinois Extension for her significant, long-term contributions as a mentor. 

Erin Estes, office support specialist serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties, supports multiple program areas in her unit where her work ethic and attention to detail is highly valued by her colleagues.

Annette Cole, an administrative aide serving central Illinois, is widely respected by all county directors in Region 2 and provides a high level of support to the entire region.

Sarah Attig, 4-H program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties, provides attention to detail, extensive job knowledge, and unmatched reliability to reach area youth during the stay-at-home order.

Bronwyn Aly is a local food systems and small farms educator serving Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope, Saline, and White counties.

Robin Johnston, SNAP-Ed work program participant, serves Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope, Saline, and White counties.

Kelly Allsup is an Extension horticulture educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Rachel Benn is an Extension nutrition and wellness program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Brittnay Haag is an Extension horticulture educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Jenna Smith is an Extension nutrition and wellness educator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Reid Young is an Extension ag and natural resources program coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford counties.

Chris Enroth is a horticulture educator serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough, and Warren counties. He is responsible for horticulture programming with an emphasis toward the home gardener, landscape maintenance personnel, and commercial landscapers. Additional responsibilities include coordinating county Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers, providing training and continuing education and organizing seasonal events and community outreach programs for horticulture and conservation assistance and education.

Andrew Holsinger is a Extension horticulture educator serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery counties. He provides horticultural education for gardeners of all ages and skill levels. He holds expertise in pruning techniques, plant identification, tree fruit culture, and using technological methods for teaching. Additionally, he is responsible for offering leadership to the training and educational needs of the Master Gardener program. Holsinger is a member of the Illinois Extension Agricultural Association, the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, and the American Horticultural Society. His previous awards include an Achievement Award, Search for Excellence in Consumer or Commercial Horticulture Award, and Communications Award from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents; an Action Award from the Illinois Extension Agricultural Association; Interdisciplinary State Team Excellence Award from University of Illinois Extension; Excellence in Teamwork Award from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Kenneth Johnson is an Extension horticulture educator serving Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties. His educational efforts focus on fruit and vegetable production, pest management, and beneficial insects. Johnson is a member of the Illinois Extension Agricultural Association, the National Association of County Agricultural Agents and the Entomological Society of America. Prior awards include the Communication Award and Search for Excellence in Consumer or Commercial Horticulture Award from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, the Action Award from the Illinois Extension Agricultural Association, and the Interdisciplinary State Team Excellence Award from Illinois Extension.

Katie Parker is local foods and small farms educator serving Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties.

SOURCE: Amanda Taylor, Assistant Director, Extension Field Operations
WRITER: Nicole Stewart, Illinois Extension Communicator

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