Deb Donaldson discussing nutrition to others

Deb Donaldson has worked with many young children, teens, new moms, and elderly people during her 19 years as an EFNEP instructor. She enjoys teaching nutrition and cooking skills.

“I help a wide variety of people (youth, teens, new moms, elderly, etc.) learn how to eat better, cook homemade food, follow a budget, and live a healthier life.  I’ve done this long enough to see how the new skills people learn gets passed down to their children and grandchildren.”

Examples of Deb's Program Partners

Picture of a mushroom in a wooded area

Many Illinoisans enjoy adventures in the woods in search of mushrooms, typically in the spring. Participants in the recent Mushrooms of Illinois webinar, or those who watched the recording, learned from Dr. Andrew Miller that mushroom hunting can be done year-round. The University of Illinois Extension webinar reached over 150 guests during the live session and in the first six months the video recording was viewed 2,100 times.

Healthy groceries on a table display

Food plays a substantial role in health, and impacts whether or not people are able to lead an active, healthy life.  By working with multiple coalitions, University of Illinois Extension staff, Kaitlyn Streitmatter and Rebecca Crumrine, are making substantial improvements in the food options available to people in need. They have played important roles in mobile food pantries, preferred food drives, and increased involvement in the greenlight identification and labeling system used at food pantries and food banks.

Teen working with a project from Storybook Engineering program

Combining classic children’s literature with engineering activities resulted in a unique learning combination for a unique situation. 4-H staff with University of Illinois Extension serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties created “Storybook Engineering” kits for youth to use at home with the goal of providing a learning opportunity along with an opportunity to stay connected with others.

Profile pic of Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle

Nicole began her career with University of Illinois Extension in 2019.

“As an agriculture and natural resources educator, I help provide information about growing plants and natural resources.  Trainings, answering homeowner questions, and supporting master volunteers are all ways that I can deliver up to date, researched based information.”


Stack of training manuals

While the Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) has a very specific target audience, the program is important to all Illinois residents. University of Illinois Extension staff partner with Illinois Department of Agriculture to provide education, training, and certification to pesticide applicators that is vital to public health protection and environmental stewardship.

Pic of Sue Walters, Master Gardener award recipient

Volunteers of University of Illinois Extension's Master Gardener program were recognized at a virtual awards ceremony October 2. The annual awards ceremony recognizes the work of the 2,700 volunteers who provide horticulture-related assistance to their communities.

4-H teens pose for a group shot

Peoria County 4-H members look forward to the day they are old enough to become a Junior Superintendent at the 4-H Show. That volunteer role holds a special place of honor for a small group of teens each year. While their responsibilities looked very different for the 2020 Virtual 4-H Show, the Junior Superintendents played an integral part in the success of the show.

Food Pantry with volunteer

With a mission to support, connect, and provide resources to those working within the emergency food system, University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit SNAP-Education and the Tazewell County Health Department partnered to launch Food Pantry Network-HOI in March 2019. Since then, the network of food banks, food pantries, and local organizations has come together to focus efforts and to support one another as they work to alleviate hunger and build a healthier community.

Children working on a school garden

University of Illinois Extension staff from horticulture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education (SNAP-Ed), and 4-H teamed up to provide training to teachers, administrators, parents, and master volunteers with the goal to help them understand how to start and maintain a school garden. The four-session series, held October 2019 through March 2020 attracted 20 people from 15 different organizations.

Teacher engaging with student with laptop

An unprecedented spring and summer, filled with COVID fears and cancellations, made it clear that the upcoming school year would be far from business as usual. The University of Illinois Extension 4-H educators Judy Schmidt and Emily Schoenfelder generally work within the sphere of non-formal education. However, anticipating the pivots that would be needed, these youth development professionals offered training sessions geared towards classroom teachers in a special summer edition of the Teacher Tuesdays program.

Profile picture of Mari Lopez

Mari was hired to the University of Illinois Extension EFNEP team in 2016. She became the second English-Spanish bilingual team member.

“I teach nutrition program to children, teens, and adults in the Peoria area. I teach them how to cook and exercise as well as encourage them to be healthy. My goal is to give them a better view of a healthy lifestyle they can use every day.”


  • University of Illinois Extension EFNEP, teamwork award for teen cooking schools 2019


People approaching food tent

Change brings new problems and new opportunities for society. Several University of Illinois Extension educators serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties have joined a team of city leaders, agencies, and organizations to address the serious need of the lack of adequate access to fresh foods for residents in Peoria’s South Side. The “Local Foods, Local Places: Revitalizing Communities by Growing Local Food Economies” initiative is a great example of how difficult challenges can bring about positive outcomes.

Profile picture of Skye Mibbs

In 2019, Skye became an Illinois Extension SNAP-Ed instructor focused in Mason County.

“I really enjoy teaching the young kids, but it doesn’t matter what age you are, nutrition is important to learn and there is always new information. I aim to educate people to help them increase their knowledge of nutrition and exercise. ”


  • Illinois College, Bachelor’s degree in biology with focus in exercise science


STEAM Coordinator shows page with fingerprints

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) programming in the University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit may have looked different this summer, but one thing was still the same –kids were engaged in STEAM activities and career exploration.  4-H staff developed three video series for youth: STEAM Activities, Storybook Engineering, and Meet a STEAM Professional.

Trucks preparing to install broadband in rural setting

Broadband technologies and applications are an integral part of any economic development effort in today’s economy. Having access to broadband and enhancing people’s knowledge and application of this valuable resource is vital to the social and economic well-being of the region. University of Illinois Extension has worked closely with several partners to provide training and support for broadband expansion locally as well as across the state.

Angela teaching cooking class

Angela Jimenez, Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program Instructor

“I teach nutrition to youth, teens, and adults in the Peoria area. I teach my clients  to eat and cook healthy, work with a budget, and exercise. My goal is to help them be engaging, to be creative, and have fun with their health, so they have a healthy head, heart, and hands.”

Natures Best Hope book cover

One of the less mentioned benefits of being an Extension Master Gardener or Master Naturalist is the time you get to spend with other volunteers learning together and from each other. While shelter-in-place and social distancing protocols are being followed, University of Illinois Extension staff created virtual book study groups for our master volunteers that began in late March with the book Nature’s Best Hope and have continued to a second book.

4-H Cloverbud holding project

Local 4-Hers did not let the cancelation of the regular 4-H Shows stop them from exhibiting their 4-H projects with the same pride and skill development as they have shown in the past. Thanks to the hard work, creative thinking, and ingenuity of the University of Illinois Extension staff, 327 youth recently participated in the 4-H Virtual Shows held in Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties.

little boy in wheelchair using stethoscope

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year Julie Dantone, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education instructor was presented with a unique challenge as she was kicking off the Organ Wise Guys curriculum at Dirksen Primary School in Pekin. How do you teach a child to check their pulse when the child does not have any arms?


Embryology in the Classroom has been a long standing part of University of Illinois Extension’s 4-H program and it continues to grow in classroom participation across Tazewell County. From 2010 to 2019, the number of classrooms participating in the program quadrupled from 8 to 32 classrooms. Approximately 5,000 youth were impacted.

scaling up info graphic

Local eateries, restaurants, cafes, pubs, and coffee shops are the social and economic lifeblood of many Illinois communities.

gardening helpline info graphic

The nationwide Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program began in 1972 when the Washington State Horticulturalist recruited and trained volunteers to help him answer the high volume of calls from the public about gardening. From there the program expanded in scope and grew across the country, but answering the public’s gardening questions is still at the heart of what EMGs do.

Nate Anton staff photo

Nate Anton, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education Instructor

“I teach nutrition to SNAP-Ed eligible youth and adults in the Peoria area. With the yearly increase of chronic diseases, many of which may be reduced with a healthier lifestyle, our programs are important for our community and country. Through instructing our clients in healthy eating, exercise, and budgeting, we hope to increase the likelihood that they lead a long and healthy life.”

Picture of SNAP Education Instructor Kathy Ellis with a child

Kathy Ellis

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education Instructor

“I teach young children in preschool, kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades about healthy eating and taking care of themselves. Some of my classes are underserved audiences such as Hispanic, hearing impaired, and special needs. I love working with all of the students and seeing them try new healthy foods.”

When Illinois’ stay at home order began in March, University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell (FMPT) Unit staff shifted to working remotely and modified their current programs to continue to meet the needs of our residents, businesses, and local governments. Illinois Extension recently announced plans to continue providing programs in formats that support public health and safety priorities throughout the summer months. Staff and volunteers have approached the shift head-on and have a well-curated line-up of programs and services readily available.

Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, located north of Havana, may be unknown by many people, but for millions of waterfowl, migratory birds, and wildlife it is a very popular place. University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Carla Montez is helping to educate the public about the value of Chautauqua and the wildlife that live and feed there through educational articles.

Handmade cards from 4-H youth sent to senior citizens

“I pledge my hands to larger service...” is part of a pledge that 4-H members have said for many generations.  Service to others is one of the main pillars of the 4-H program. 4-H members participate in service projects year-round through their clubs, county, and state-wide opportunities. Typically service projects include face-to-face interactions with others in their communities.

group of 4-Hers with senior citizen

Kountry Kritters 4-H Club in Mason County is one of many 4-H clubs throughout the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit that has made special efforts to connect 4-H club members with adults living in assisted living facilities. The University of Illinois 4-H youth development program recognizes community service plays an important role in developing good citizenship.  Community service to older persons is a meaningful way to teach our youth that they can be productive and useful members of the community.

4-H girl giving illustrated talk

Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking. You may not hear that word used very often but the fear is very common….except in 4-H alumni. 4-H excels in preparing youth to speak well and speak confidently. It is an important life skill that lasts a lifetime. 4-H staff and volunteers in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties work to offer members many opportunities to learn and practice these skills at the club, county, and state levels.

group photo of Master Gardeners

Eight University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener (EMG) trainees in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit showed up on two chilly days in March at the Peoria Zoo as part of a new approach to official EMG training. It was the beginning of an 18-hour long volunteer skills training program.

Irene Edwards teaching a boy and a girl to use a grater

Irene Edwards

Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program  Instructor

 “I deliver programming on a level that youth and other audiences can engage, understand, and participate in an exciting and fun setting. We promote eating fresh produce, being wise consumers, and having a healthy mind, body, and environment.”

Since 1999, Irene has been a part of the U of I Extension team. Her work is focused in Peoria County.

Profile picture of Julie Dantone

Julie Dantone, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education Instructor

“Teaching those of all ages healthy eating habits and physical activity is rewarding, I did not realize there was such a need for food and food education in my community. I am proud to be a part of the SNAP-Ed team. It is satisfying seeing a child eat a fruit for the first time and loving it!”

4-H Volunteers with awards

Volunteers are the backbone of the 4-H program. Each year, University of Illinois Extension Fulton County 4-H selects two 4-H volunteers to recognize for their outstanding volunteer efforts. This year Crista Hartstirn of Fairview was honored as Fulton County 4-H Leader of the Year and Nancy Williams of Smithfield was recognized as Fulton County 4-H Volunteer of the Year.

“These two ladies are the cream of the crop,” mentioned Janis Blout, Fulton 4-H program coordinator.

Profile picture of Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle

Four Seasons Gardening Webinar has been an important state-wide program offered by University of Illinois Extension for over two decades. Using technology, Extension horticulture educators are able to teach current horticultural information to a broad audience in Illinois and beyond. Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, horticulture educator serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties recently presented her first Four Seasons Gardening Webinar.

Julie Henderson, new First Baptist Food Pantry manager, with poster on fruits and vegetables

While the goal of food pantries is always to provide food to all in need, it is also important to provide it in such a way that help guests feel welcome and in control. First Baptist Church Food Pantry in Canton recently converted their layout, policies, and visuals to give guests a shopping experience that more closely resembles a grocery store. University of Illinois Extension, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-ED) staff were part of the team of supporters to make this new format a reality.

Tara Agama interacts with child during educational program

Tara Agama, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education Instructor

“I teach preschoolers and early elementary students about healthy eating and how to take care of their organs. Many of my students and their parents tell me they have made healthy changes at home because of our program. I know that I am making a difference.”

School staff learn about challenges of living in poverty

For those who have never experienced poverty it is hard to imagine what is involved in navigating that day-to-day life. The stress and uncertainty play out in such ways that drastically impact high school graduation and college attendance rates for children and young adults in Illinois. University of Illinois Extension recently partnered with Dream Center Peoria and East Peoria Junior High to walk the school’s 200+ teachers and staff through a poverty simulation to help participants rethink poverty and become part of the solution.

Extension Master Naturalist Julie Robinson documenting outdoor public spaces

“I just want people to spend more time outside,” explained University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Julie Robinson.

This was the passion driving Robinson to build a website called Local OPAL, which stands for Outdoor Playing And Learning, She created an online resource that helps everyone easily find publicly accessible outdoor locations in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, Tazewell, Marshall, and Woodford counties.

Teens help a senior citizen use an electronic device.

A new program called 4-H Tech Changemakers was launched in University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit to empower youth to help close the broadband internet gap. This nationally led program is a partnership between Microsoft and National 4-H Council in which trained teens assist adults to learn new technology and how to use it safely.

SNAP-Ed staff member with display booth with resources on healthy eating

With a priority of focusing on food as medicine, University of Illinois Extension staff teamed up with two partners to provide Heartland Health Services pediatric families a bundle of fresh produce in conjunction with nutrition education and resources as part of a 10 week pilot project. Extension staff involved are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—Education (SNAP-Ed) effort serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. The two partners were University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP) and Peoria Area Food Bank.

4-H youth distributing gifts to farmers

Local 4-H members showed their thanks to area farmers in a big way this season. The gift looks small but in reality, it comes with a life-saving message.

Volunteer Master Gardeners at Farmers Market

Master Gardeners from University of Illinois Extension serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties share a mission to “help others learn to grow.” Perhaps nowhere does this mission play out more directly than at the Peoria Riverfront Farmers Market (PRFM), where they answer hundreds of gardening questions posed by visitors from across Central Illinois and beyond.

Profile picture of Jo Elyn Smith

Jo Elyn Smith, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program—Instructor

“I reach people in the Peoria community to help them better understand what tools they need to become healthier. This is important to me because each person I reach is different in what they need to become healthier.”