Illinois youth learn skills to become healthy living changemakers

URBANA, Ill. – The past year has presented many challenges to people's physical, emotional, and mental health. Risk factors such as poverty, neglect, and violence can make the challenges more intense, and social isolation and uncertainty from COVID-19 may continue to negatively impact community health for some time to come. 4-H Youth now have the tools to become healthy living changemakers right in their communities through the leadership of prominent lifestyle and health experts at the recent National 4-H Summit for Healthy Living.

Illinois 4-H youth represented Illinois in facilitator, speaker and ambassador roles.

Designed for grades 9 through 12, the summit brought together teen health leaders from across the country to focus on helping teens develop the knowledge and skills to address today’s issues facing nutrition education, physical fitness, wellness, and emotional well-being. Fifteen teens were chosen to represent Illinois at the conference as 4-H Healthy Living Teen Ambassadors.

Over 500 ambassadors gathered for this virtual conference. 

“The changes that came from holding the conference virtually were amazing,” says Susan Sloop, University of Illinois Extension youth development educator. “The virtual format allowed youth to participate in a way they couldn’t before.” Twelve collegiate facilitators were chosen to assist with the new event format, including Metropolis, Illinois youth Kaitlyn May.  

“It was an incredible honor to be selected to as a collegiate facilitator for the 2021 National Healthy Living Summit and to represent Illinois 4-H in the process,” May says. “I was fortunate to be able to attend in person a couple of years ago and learned so much from it. To be able to be on the facilitator side of it this year was a great experience and I hope to be able to participate again next year. I enjoyed the collaboration among all of the facilitators as we planned activities. It was great to meet so many new 4-H members from across the country.” 

Illinois' Elizabeth Weidner, 2021 4-H Youth in Action Award Winner, provided the capnote address on her experience battling childhood cancer and becoming an advocate for childhood cancer research.  

These delegates will now have the opportunity to take what they have learned, assess the needs of this community, create an action plan, and compete for an opportunity to receive a National 4-H stipend to implement their plan. '

“We’re challenging our ambassadors to ask ‘How healthy is my community?’” Sloop says. “We hope they take a really holistic approach in assessing their communities and creating their action plans.” 

Ninety-nine percent of the teens who attended the 2019 Healthy Living Summit reported that it helped them become leaders and create change in their communities.

This event was sponsored, in part, by Illinois Extension and funded by the Wal-Mart Foundation.

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 ExtensionIllinois 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. 

For Further Information Contact:

Source: Susan Sloop, University of Illinois Extension Youth Development Educator,

News Writer: Carissa Nelson, 4-H Media Communications Manager, University of Illinois Extension,