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Teens ready to take on new statewide leadership role

Teens looking at a comic

Urbana, Ill. – Five Illinois teens have a new way to make their voices heard on a statewide platform through the Illinois 4-H Youth Leadership Team.

The team is comprised of 20 4-H members and recent alumni under the age of 21 who coordinate and assist with statewide 4-H activities.

“Team members bring an invaluable youth voice to the program through planning and leading the Illinois 4-H Junior Leadership Conference, walking the halls of the Illinois State Capitol talking to legislators, and representing Illinois 4-H at state and national events throughout the year,” says Katie Duitsman, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. 

The Youth Leadership Team offers 4-H members and recent 4-H alumni an opportunity to give back to the 4-H program while further enhancing their leadership skills.

“I hope to gain new opportunities working with other youth,” says new member Sofie Heidrich of Kendall County. “Also planning fun events and making new friendships on the team.”

In addition to planning and leadership roles, teens serve on statewide committees and boards including the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board of Directors and the Illinois Farm Bureau Youth Education Committee

“I am so passionate about 4-H because it has given me the life that I am living today,” says new member Janella Neary of Monroe County. “Whether that’s showing cattle at the fair or hanging out with my friends, 4-H gave me those relationships and opportunities. 4-H has helped me grow as a leader and is where I feel at home. I am so excited to see where the Illinois Youth Leadership Team takes me.”

Bringing on new members is an important part of making sure that the team reflects an authentic youth voice.

“Our new members bring new ideas and perspectives to the team,” says Duitsman. “Illinois is a large and diverse state and a flow of new members ensures that all youth voices are heard.”

New Youth Leadership Team members for 2022 include: Ben Suckow, Macon County; Janella Neary, Monroe County; Emma Hughes, Montgomery County; Sofie Heidrich, Kendall County; and Gauri Venkatraman, DuPage County.

New members are chosen yearly for two-year terms and can serve up to two terms total. Team Officers are elected once a year by their peers. To learn more about leadership programming in Illinois 4-H, please visit the 4-H Leadership Page.

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 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. 

Source:  Katie Duitsman, University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist,

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

Megan Eppel, Youth Leadership Team, Lake County