"4-H has made me everything I am."

That's tall praise from a woman whose family name adorns the University of Illinois woman's softball field, but it is said with the sincerest gratitude about the youth development program which she says instilled her desire for lifetime service and learning.

If you attended University of Illinois, this campus will always hold special memories for you. As a young graduate, I would stop by campus on my way through from where my first job took me to where I was born. After marriage and babies, I would still stop, toddlers in tow, to show them the quad, Assembly Hall and Morrow Plots.

Illinois, where I got locked in the graduate library stacks one night.
Illinois, where I watched a football referee die on the field during a game my freshman year.
Illinois, where there were five times as many people in my dorm as my home town.

You wouldn't think it would work.

The shooting sports program is one of the fastest growing projects in Illinois 4-H. The program offers four disciplines of focus: archery, rifle, shotgun, and wildlife/hunting. For some teens, shooting sports is the one reason they joined and stayed in 4-H during those busy high school years.

There's a new campaign to grow 4-H membership to 10 million kids by 2025. Grow True Leaders also aims to collect the names of 1 million 4-H alumni. Can we count on you?

Whether your 4-H experience was speaking to legislators, whipping up a nutritious meal, leading your 4-H club meeting, spending summers at the county fair, or teaching STEM experiences, we want to hear your story so it inspires the next generation of True Leaders.

Here's all it takes:
Step 1: Go to 4-h.org/4Hgrowshere-alumni/ and register as an Illinois 4-H alum.

Do you remember your first time on the University of Illinois campus? Sure you do. There's something about walking on the quad for the first time that stays with a person.

Illinois 4-H wants to be that 'first look at campus' for Illinois young people, and we do it through our Illini Summer Academies. This year we set a new record … 310 kids in 16 different academies of study. We're just about evenly split between incoming high school freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Nearly 70 years ago, a young woman walked the same paths you now walk on this beautiful campus. No doubt, even she didn't know then what an influence she would later become to generations of young people attending University of Illinois or young 4-H members.

This fall, Lila Jeanne Eichelberger will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame Class of 2016 at a ceremony in Chevy Chase Md. Known around campus as "Shorty" because of her small 5-foot frame, Eichelberger stands as a giant among her peers for her philanthropic efforts to support 4-H and the university.

Life-changing.

It isn't a term I use lightly or often. It loses its power when used carelessly, yet today, today, I can use no other word to describe Josiah's 4-H journey than life-changing.

Josiah just won the Illinois State 4-H Air Rifle Shoot held Saturday in Bloomington, but that isn't why his life is changed. His life is changed because of 4-H, one simple year of 4-H.

The moment he speaks, you recognize Brian Barnhart, the Voice of the Illini. What you may not know is that Barnhart is a former 4-H member and credits 4-H with providing the structure youth need to set goals and learn responsibility.

What do Chancellor Robert J. Jones, Coach John Groce, Philanthropist Lila Jeanne Eichelberger, Professor Bruce Fouke, Voice of the Illini Brian Barnhart, and I all have in common? We were 4-H members and can trace where we are now to the lessons we learned in 4-H.