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 our state 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.

Our ambassador from Vermilion County was Naomi Dolan, a 9-year 4-H member of the Snider-Kickapoo, Inc. is very interested in improving mental health in her community. “The Healthy Living Summit allowed me to broadened my understanding of health as a whole, not just my personal subject track of mental health. The summit opened new doors to topic areas, activities, and opportunities that I could research more myself as well as bring back to my community and Illinois 4-H as a whole. Through the summit, I had the opportunity to explore everything from how finances can affect your mental health to how to make a potato taco from scratch. The extensive amount of resources that were given to participants gave me multiple ideas that I plan on using to not only to improve my own health but my local community and state’s health as well.” Naomi is also very active in 4-H Teen Teachers, Vermilion County 4-H Federation, and the Illinois 4-H Youth Leadership Team.

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.” 

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.”

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

For Further Information Contact: Mynda Tracy, 4-H Youth Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension, mynda@illinois.edu

SOURCE: Susan Sloop, University of Illinois Extension Youth Development Educator, ssloop@illinois.edu
WRITER: Carissa Nelson, 4-H Media Communications Manager, University of Illinois Extension, carissa7@illinois.edu
ABOUT ILLINOIS 4-H: Illinois 4-H helps youth learn skills for living. University of Illinois Extension provides 4-H programs in every county in Illinois. Illinois 4-H impacts the lives of 200,000 youth each year through sustained learning clubs and groups and short-term programming.
ABOUT 4-H:  4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization, grows confident young people who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. 4-H programs empower nearly 6 million young people across the U.S. through experiences that develop critical life skills. 4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA and serves every county and parish in the U.S. through a network of 110 public universities and more than 3000 local Extension offices. The research-backed 4-H experience grows young people who 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.