Three teens holding buckets

To some, showing livestock may appear to be limited to the skills demonstrated within the show ring. But to those who have experienced it, they know the physical skills, life skills, and personal character development go much deeper. And participating in master showmanship contests takes it all to the next level.

man looking in microscope

It can be hard to pull yourself away from the computer or TV and get outside, but it is well worth it. University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development team in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit created a new program to help encourage youth and families to explore the outdoors.

Instructor showing student how to intubate a training mannequin

Career exploration is a big part of the 4-H world. Sometimes members are exposed to careers subtly and other times they are the main focus.

Sign of 4-H window display that says, "We Are Better Together"

Everyone has a fundamental need to feel a part of a group such as a family, a group of friends, or a team. In the 4-H world, it is referred to as a “sense of belonging.” Fostering a sense of belonging is one of the main priorities of the 4-H program within the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, as well as across the state.

Child building a chicken coop with edible items like graham crackers and marshmallow chicks

Experiential learning is a longtime piece of the 4-H philosophy. It is one of the program’s guiding principles that focuses on intentional learning experiences, where the integration of knowledge, skills, and behaviors of formal and non-formal education strategies are applied. Pleasant Workers 4-H Club in Mason County implemented an experiential learning, kid-friendly theme this year called “Lets Learn!”

dad and daughter planting an oak tree

Youth and adults from Peoria County worked together on a unique community service project that they and others will watch grow for many years and will benefit generations to come.

4-H members participating in a meeting

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question we start asking young people almost as soon as they can talk. And it’s an important question. At its most fundamental level, the question is asking about a young person’s goals – but the conversation should not end here.

Profile pictures of 4-H teen scholarship recipients

To be selected for a state 4-H scholarship is quite an honor, as the competition is steep. University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit is proud to announce that four local 4-H members were selected to receive $1,000 career achievement scholarships as well as one 4-H Sustaining the Future Award.

Local career achievement scholarship winners include:

Profile picture of Kristi Smith

Kristi Smith has been part of the 4-H program long before becoming the Peoria 4-H program coordinator. She spent ten years involved as a member of the Laura Winners 4-H club and then during her teen years 4-H Federation. Upon her graduation from 4-H, she immediately became a volunteer as the 4-H Livestock Judging coach in Peoria County. Now, she is excited to join the 4-H team at University of Illinois Extension.

Elementary age child works on STEM project

Afterschool programs have been a reliable source of support to young people and families who are balancing remote school or work, dealing with the health and economic stressors created by the pandemic, and managing the toll that COVID-19 is taking on their mental health and overall well-being (Afterschool Alliance, 2021).

A learning garden with a gate and colorful displays

Everywhere you turn in the 4-H Learning Garden at Wildlife Prairie Park there is something inspiring to see and new to learn. The 4-H Learning Garden is a colorful and productive garden that grows food for the park’s animals while serving as a demonstration and learning tool. University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners (EMG) lead a 4-H special interest club at the park that focuses on gardening and art lessons.

students and instructor on an archery range

The Illinois 4-H Shooting Sports program relies heavily on adult volunteers to take the lead in teaching the disciplines and management of the local clubs. It is the volunteers who ultimately make the county program successful. Mason County 4-H Shooting Sports archery instructor Ted Snider is an instrumental part of the team that makes it an outstanding program.

4-H teen in arena with cow

There are some things that you can’t learn from a book or in school. You need to experience it firsthand to understand the full scope, and farming is one of those things. For the past nine years, Peoria County’s Neighbor Kids Dairy 4-H Special Interest (SPIN) club has taught youth of all ages life skills such as work ethics, responsibility, safety awareness, communication, problem solving, caring for others as well as a better understanding of the agriculture industry and where our food comes from.

A senior citizen with a child in a garden

Take a moment and think about an adult who was influential in your life when you were young. What did they do that made a difference to you? Chances are, their actions constituted a developmental relationship, though they probably didn’t know this at the time.

Field of pumpkins

Two Tazewell County 4-H clubs recently participated in piloting lessons for an agricultural commodity curriculum, Focus on Commodities, developed by University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences students Hannah Spangler, Fulton 4-H alumna, and Emma Robbins.

Picture of contents of Connection Corner Kits

The social and emotional health of youth and families are critical pieces of overall health, and never more so than with the unusual challenges of 2020. CEO of the CASEL Initiative (Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning) Karen Niemi stated, “when physical distancing is deemed necessary, social and emotional connectedness is even more critical.” University of Illinois Extension 4-H staff in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties responded to thi

child trying on fireman's gear

Accidents can happen in a split second. It is never too young to start learning how to be situationally aware and safer. For the past 30 years, University of Illinois Extension and Illinois Farm Bureau have made it a priority to teach area youth how to be safe around the farm and beyond.

girl holding ribbon wreath

Hands-on, experiential learning is at the core of the 4-H program. When programs were transitioned to virtual, local 4-H staff developed an innovative program called 4-H Spark Camp that upheld the 4-H learning style that youth and their families could do together at home.

Picture of a landscape with a lone tree and the title, Joy Project

After months of being sheltered in place in 2020, Mason 4-H Federation teens were feeling the emotional effects and decided to do something to help others who may be feeling the same. Combining their leadership and program planning skills with their creative skills and empathy, they launched The Joy Project 2021 in April.

4-H youth holding a Guinea Pig

Pets bring a lot of joy to the homes where they live. When young family members help take care of pets, they learn valuable responsibility skills. 4-H provides tools and learning opportunities for youth to develop those skills.

4-H teens pose for a group shot

Once a 4-Her, always a 4-Her. According to the Illinois 4-H Alumni Association, 25 million Americans share the unique bond of being a 4-H alum, each with a unique story. Whether it's spending time at 4-H camp, conquering public speaking fears, leading as a club officer, traveling the world as an exchange member, competing at the county fair, or working with 4-H club leaders; 4-H experiences played a part in personal development.

4-H youth and adult with boxes of socks

The best leaders are those who also serve others. 4-H offers a wide variety of opportunities for youth to develop those servant leadership skills. The four 4-H Federation groups in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties have worked hard over the past year encouraging others through 12 various service projects and special events, which also provided an avenue for the teens to build their leadership skills.

Upset child being soothed by adult

Youth and families are currently impacted by a variety of stressful events outside of their control. Changes in normal routines, limited social interaction with friends and families, and missed significant life events can all increase the stress and anxiety children and families are feeling. University of Illinois Extension Youth Educators Judy Schmidt and Emily Schoenfelder have started a new blog dedicated to helping families cope with stress and anxiety.

Teens at 4-H Show

The skill mastery exhibited during the 2020 Virtual 4-H Shows seemed extra special this year and deserved an extra special recognition. A drive-thru awards ceremony was held honoring the Tazewell County 4-H Virtual Show exhibitors.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Youth holding milk vouchers

Building generosity in young people though community service has always been a pillar of 4-H youth development. University of Illinois Extension staff led the way to take community service to the next level. Throughout 2019, 4-H clubs in  Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties combined traditional community service with experiential learning for a new focus on “service learning.” Club members and leaders worked together to plan, organize, and execute what was referred to as the 4-H 10 Gallon Challenge, in which milk or milk vouchers were donated to local food pantries.

teacher helping girl use a microscope

4G STEM Camp is a University of Illinois Extension camp for middle school girls designed to introduce them to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  It is an engaging and successful camp for the participants, but its capacity is only 35 girls. Because of this limit, Extension staff incorporated a teacher track as part of the 4G STEM Camp experience in 2015, to extend STEM education to more youth. Since that time, 30 teachers have participated in the 4G STEM Camp Teacher Track.

three teen 4-H members and two adults standing in food pantry with collection of food on counter

Members of the Mason County 4-H Federation Club teamed up with local law enforcement officers to host a food drive as a service learning project. Using the 2019 county fair as a collection site, the goals of the club were to partner with other community volunteers and to collect healthy food donations to benefit county food pantries.

4-H member with black heifer

Youth in 4-H who care for and show livestock gain technical expertise and develop important soft skills that will aid them in future endeavors. Fulton County, in particular, has a large number of youth enrolled in livestock projects.

Fulton County is a big county. In square miles, it is the 8th largest county in Illinois. It also has large numbers of livestock. According to the 2019 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Report, Fulton County is the 7th highest Illinois county in cattle numbers with 29,500 head.

young boy holding AWS robotic car shell

How do cars learn to drive themselves?  That is exactly what twenty-five middle school students learned as part of the fourth annual STEM Academy put on by University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, Pearl Technology, Richwoods Township, Caterpillar, Tri-County Regional Planning, and Amazon Web Services earlier this summer. 

boys working on engineering project

According to the US Department of Education, “...not enough of our youth have access to quality STEM learning opportunities,”  and “The United States is falling behind internationally, ranking ... 22nd in science among industrialized nations.” 4-H  is helping to address this gap. This spring, several fourth and fifth-grade classes piloted a new University of Illinois Extension 4-H program: Engineering Adventures!

three 4-H staff members in group photo

Katharine Girone, Tazewell 4-H Program Coordinator

“I collaborate with a group of dedicated 4-H volunteers and partners to inspire youth to develop their fullest potential through positive youth development opportunities in Tazewell County. This role gives me the chance to give back to the organization that shaped me into the individual I am today.”

Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson shaking hands with a 4-H teen

The work being done through University of Illinois Extension programs and partnerships in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties is recognized for its positive impact at many levels through the University system. College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) dean, Kimberly Kidwell, recently returned for her second unit tour, along with the new Extension director and associate dean, Shelly Nickols-Richardson. The duo spent the day learning about a few of our programs, engaging with unit staff, and networking with volunteers, 4-H members, and partners.

two girls wearing lab coats and safety goggles

For the third year in a row, University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, the Society of Women Engineers–Central Illinois, and Bradley University partnered together to offer STEM Bootcamp to high school age girls. STEM Bootcamp is designed to create a learning opportunity focused on teamwork, solving a problem, and mentorship by female engineers and scientists.

young 4-H girl giving a talk

Within a 4-H club, youth annually give talks and demonstrations to their peers as part of their club involvement. Through these experiences, members gain confidence in their public speaking skills.

two ladies holding up a marketing photo frame

Joli Pierson, Mason 4-H Program Coordinator

“I am a facilitator for the Illinois 4-H program in Mason County. I invite youth to be a part of a program that offers the elements of Belonging, Independence, Generosity, and Mastery. I strive to develop our local  4-H volunteer leadership structure, where youth can benefit from the  knowledge, experience, skills, and good examples of citizenship that volunteers have to offer.

three teenage girls

The 4-H youth development program prides itself on helping young people grow into outstanding leaders. A statewide study conducted in 2016 showed that participation in any 4-H leadership opportunity leads to a significant increase in leadership skills, including: getting along with others, understanding yourself, working with groups, communication and management skills. Moreover, the more leadership opportunities youth are engaged in, the more their leadership skills increase.

kids doing karate with teacher standing in background

For the past 12 years, youth participating in the 4-H Shotokan Karate Special Interest (SPIN) Club have gained self-esteem, self-defense skills, fitness and health benefits, confidence, and mental focus. The Peoria County based club has attracted new youth to the 4-H program as well as provided leadership development and longevity in the program for teens.

three 4-H staff members in group photo

Cathy Ludolph

Peoria County 4-H Program Coordinator

“I plan and coordinate positive youth development programs and activities for youth in Peoria County. I work with an awesome group of 4-H volunteers to implement the programs that provide youth the opportunity to develop leadership, citizenship and mastery of life skills.”

Cathy has been the Peoria County 4-H Program Coordinator since 2000. She began her Illinois Extension career in 1995.

girls using virtual reality goggles

We need as many people as possible using their skills and ideas to improve the world in which we live. Girls are being introduced and encouraged to consider careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) including computer sciences by University of Illinois Extension’s 4-H programs in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, & Tazewell counties.