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Local U of I Extension staff honored with awards

Two adults standing with plaque

OREGON, Ill. - Ten local University of Illinois Extension staff members were honored at Illinois Extension’s Annual Conference held on Nov. 15-16. The Extension Excellence Awards celebrated the outstanding achievement and exceptional teamwork displayed by talented staff members, from leading innovative projects to leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Other staff members implemented a program, Hometown Leaders, which was also selected to be presented to others in a workshop setting during the conference.

Inclusive Excellence Award (Individual)
Judy Hodge, a Program Coordinator in Boone County, initiated a partnership in 2021 in Boone County to enhance the inclusivity of Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle Counties Master Gardeners’ work and collaborate with the Belvidere Park District, which is part of the Northlands Association for Special Recreation (NASR), whose programs are open to any individual with disability-related special needs. Judy organized monthly Zoom nature meetings for NASR’s adult day program, and in 2022, the program moved to the Boone County Health Department’s Community Garden. This is where the Master Gardeners taught gardening to NASR participants. Judy facilitated the return of the program to the NASR facility in 2023 with the help of a grant for raised garden beds. This program initiative has positively impacted the participants’ confidence and life skills, fostering a sense of pride and learning through gardening and community service. Judy’s leadership has been crucial to the success of the program.

Excellence in Innovation Office Support (Team)
The Office Support team serving Boone, DeKalb, and Ogle Counties has excelled in innovative collaboration and coordination. This team of five included Jenny Kvamme, Ogle County; Amy Miller, Ogle County; Kelli Morrow, Boone County; Lydia Nickels, former DeKalb County, now 4-H Program Coordinator; and Teresa Schwarz, Ogle County. The team established monthly virtual meetings that strengthened their connection within their offices and beyond, which allowed them to share knowledge, collaborate on projects, and support each other. They have recognized each member’s strengths in different areas, which benefits all the offices. This collaborative approach has empowered the team and improved their engagement with tasks, commitment to their jobs, and teamwork. The team’s initiative has fostered a stronger bond and understanding among them, enabling them to address common issues and make their offices more efficient and conducive to workspaces. Their proactive approach has made team members feel valued and heard.

Hometown Leaders Program Presentation
Staff members Kathy Dombek, 4-H Program Coordinator; Heather Coyle, County Director; Mike Delany, Community and Economic Development Educator; and Melissa Irwin, 4-H Program Coordinator, presented a workshop about the Hometown Leaders program implemented with 4-H youth and our partners, the Boone County Board and Boone County Government. This program is targeted to help the younger generation become more familiar with local government functions, learn more about the political roles and career paths reflected in local government, and encourage them to become involved in local government. The staff shared how the program was organized and how it could be implemented in other counties. 

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.