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Institute inspires youth change agents

Institute participants pose in front of an idea board

BETHESDA, Md. — Six exceptional leaders from Illinois were selected to attend the National 4-H True Leaders in Equity Institute held July 10-13. This event aimed to empower and equip youth to become catalysts for change within the Cooperative Extension System.

The 2023 delegation included: Robert Palmer, Melvin Bowles, and Maelena Chavira of Vermillion County; Alexandra Jimenez and Edgar Jaime of Cook County; and Jasmin Tapia of Champaign County.

The True Leaders in Equity Institute serves as a platform for participants to embark on a journey of self-discovery and societal change, as they engage in thought-provoking projects centered around issues that are important to them. There is a strong emphasis on social justice and the participants of True Leaders in Equity Institute get the opportunity to channel their passion towards creating impactful change.

This group of youth delegates focused their projects particularly on mental health awareness and breaking down barriers in college and career readiness programs for underserved and underrepresented youth and families. Through their innovative equity projects, youth dove into the realm of mental health, advocating for de-stigmatization and access to resources.

Additionally, this year's delegates proposed to extend opportunities within college and career readiness programs, ensuring that every young individual, regardless of their background, has a fair chance at success. True Leaders in Equity thrives on collaboration and creative problem-solving, enabling these aspiring leaders to develop comprehensive solutions that catalyze meaningful change within their communities. By equipping young minds with the tools to dismantle systemic inequities and promote inclusivity, True Leaders in Equity empowers its participants to pave the way for a brighter, more just future.

After completing the Institute, participants returned to their local communities armed with newfound knowledge, a strengthened sense of purpose, and a drive to effect positive change. They are committed to transforming their surroundings, fostering inclusivity, and championing the values of equity and justice.

"These extraordinary young leaders exemplify the resilience, empathy, and dedication needed to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow,” says Roxana Cejeda, University of Illinois Extension 4-H outreach associate. “We have every confidence that they will utilize this opportunity to create lasting impacts within their communities and to amplify the next generation of voices.”

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. 

Source: Roxana Cejeda, 4-H Youth Readiness and New Audiences Outreach Associate,

Writer:  Carissa Nelson, Media Communications Manager, 4-H State Office,

About Extension

Illinois 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. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.