As the holiday season comes to a close, it is important to remember the ongoing needs of people struggling with Food Insecurity. Cold weather is a growing strain on families, making it even harder than normal to keep everyone fed. 

In the spirit of continued giving, consider donating to local food pantries. Non-perishable food is still preferable, despite the ready access to refrigeration brought by winter weather. As always, be sure to donate highly nutritious and delicious foods that are easy to prepare.

The New Year is frequently a time when adults do some personal goal setting through resolutions of all sorts. This time of year also presents a great opportunity to teach kids this important skill.

The bounty of the harvest. Many of us interpret this to be the ending point of nature’s annual cycle. We know that winter is here and only the warm spring sun can signal the start of another cycle. But the seed that sprouts next spring is already here. And this seed needs winter; it needs nurturing and time; there is no end to this cycle. Nature not only yielded the immediate short-term bounty of fruit, but it also provided us with tiny packages which truly represent our hope for a prosperous future – the sustainable seed.

Most students are back in school. This means that the majority of children will now be guaranteed school lunches five days a week. Although the return of school lunches is certainly a boon to families struggling with food insecurity, it is important not to get lulled into thinking that their trials are over. 

The autumn and winter months can present unique challenges for families when it comes to finding food. From layoffs to shifting demands for power and heating, there are numerous obstacles awaiting families as the days shorten. 

Clarence was a freshman at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1962 majoring in agriculture. He was from southern Illinois and looking for a way to meet new friends so he joined an archery club he learned about from a flyer posted in the Stock Pavilion. His love of archery lasted a lifetime. He had shot arrows for over 60 years. But as life goes, the arthritis pain in his joints was telling him his days of pulling back a bow string were now over.   Clarence however felt no sadness in his joints….he instead felt the urge to give something back to th

What's your 4-H story?

Illinois 4-H is proud of the rich history of 4-H and our 4-H alums near and far. If you were a member of the Illinois 4-H program, you are one of 25 million Americans who share a unique bond.

Every year in the United States, National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories and cultures of Mexico, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain from September 15 to October 15. This observation started under the Lyndon Johnson presidency in 1968 and was enacted into law (Public Law 100-402) by President Ronald Reagan on August 17, 1988. 

Jamie had learned a lot by being enamored by the Illinois 4-H State Crappie tournament in April. She’d caught panfish before and loved fishing. Her dad had taken her fishing at a nearby lake a few times the year before and she’d learned what a bluegill, a crappie, and even a Red Eared Sunfish was and how they looked different. But she wanted to learn more. Contests motivated her.

What is Juneteenth? Also known as Freedom Day, African American Independence Day, or Jubilee Day, this celebration marks a day in 1865 when enslaved Texans learned they’d be free—two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War and two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But Juneteenth is more than an observance of freedom. It’s also a time to share the experiences of those who fought—literally and figuratively—to seek true freedom for future generations.

youth showing sheep

Did you know that more than 40% of 4-Hers in the state participate in one or more livestock projects?

As we move forward into summer, some might be inclined to think that the issues of the world melt away with the cold. However, even when the sun and breeze make it seem impossible to worry about anything, many families have to worry about food insecurity. Many food insecure families rely on school lunches to feed their children. When school gets out, families may have to provide several additional meals each day. It is much harder to enjoy summer break when one is hungry.

I walked through a dirt road riddled with potholes. To my left, I saw a deserted primary school with a collapsed foundation. To my right, I gazed upon a medical clinic that is almost always empty and void of a doctor. I look at homes on the street, many of which are small amid a periodic power outage. I thought back to life in the United States. It astonished me that the difference in the quality of life between two parts of the world is so stark. Initially, a sense of helplessness took over me — how could a young person like me fix such wide-ranging issues?

map of asia with the text "asian american pacific islander heritage month"

May is Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! Here are some ideas of how you and your club can get involved!


Learn more about AAPI Month, why it is celebrated, and its history and impact at the official Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month site. Check out their virtual exhibits and collections tab.


As the horse bowl and hippology season in Illinois nears its culmination in the state competition this weekend, the efforts of dedicated 4-Hers are soon to be rewarded.

Every year, horse-crazy 4-H members from around the state of Illinois spend the fall, winter, and spring preparing for a rigorous competition where they showcase their equine knowledge. After eight straight seasons of my participation, I am taking this first season as a program alumna to reflect on my past experiences and lifelong gains from involvement in these outstanding programs.

Many people are unaware of what happens to food after it is donated. Obviously it is eaten, but what happens in the time between the time when it is dropped off at a pantry and the time when it is consumed? There are several important steps in this process, but one that is frequently forgotten is the preparation of food by those it is donated to. 

Youth robotics teams from around the state are traveling to Bloomington this weekend to compete in the SpaceBot Mission Command 4-H Robotics Challenge. Teams have built and programmed Lego robots to accomplish a variety of tasks related to space travel, such as satellite control, navigation, and supply transport.

During the pandemic when so many other things were canceled, I started riding lessons. When I started I didn't know much about horses, and all I knew was what I watched on TV or had learned at camp which wasn't much. I love horses, but I don't own one. However, 4-H has given me the opportunity to learn about real horses without owning one. Back in January of 2021 my county started a Junior Hippology/Horse Bowl program. In our group there were members who owned horses and members like me, who didn’t own a horse. We met every Friday night either in person or by Zoom.

It is not until you begin to look for food to donate to a food bank or pantry that you realize just what a wide selection of different foods there are in the world. Most people only tend to eat a very small fraction of these foods when allowed to choose for themselves. But choosing what to donate for someone else is a different story. Not everyone will like your favorite kind of bread, or appreciate the grape-jelly that you like to spread on everything you eat. It is important in this case to consider the specific needs of the people who are likely to receive the food you donate. 

Food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to affordable and nutritious food affects roughly 10% of the people of Illinois. The lack of reliable food sources is extremely damaging to families and individuals. The winter months can be especially hard for families battling food insecurity. Snow days can interrupt school, which many families rely on to feed their children lunch. Additionally, the many challenges of winter weather can make access to food more difficult.

Every February, people in the United States celebrate the history and the achievements of African Americans as a part of Black History Month. Here are some ideas of how you and your 4-H club can help celebrate this month!


Learn more about Black History Month, why it is celebrated, and its history and impact at the Black History Month site.


a youth in a mask builds a ring of Pringles

You aren’t the first person to ask, "What do Pringles have to do with leadership?" The conversation started as I pushed a cart full of Pringles cans to the local grocery store and said, “I work for 4-H” to the cashier as though that explained why I had 10+ cans of our favorite creatively packaged salty snack. The question continued as I walked into our office and was asked again when the agenda for 4-H Officer Training School read “leadership activity” and I placed a can of Pringles on each table.

This past month ten youth from Illinois were able to attend the 100th National 4-H Congress. This was a five day event held in Atlanta, GA where they were able to take part in many activities such as workshops hosted by individuals from high level universities, fun sightseeing, and a morning of service with everyone who attended. I was able to ask some of the participants some questions about their experiences and how national networking opportunities help them grow.


Q: Favorite Part of the week?

The holiday season is upon us! No matter which holiday you’re celebrating, December is a busy month. Between shopping for your loved ones and preparing those traditional family recipes, you may not have much time to consider that there are easy things you can do to create environmental or social impact in terms of food advocacy this season. To help, the Food Advocacy Team has created a simple list of ways you can continue to practice food advocacy through the holidays.

1.  Reduce Food Waste

hands planting a tree

OK, I get it.   We’ve changed our environment in ways that need immediate attention. So what can I do? We need to improve our water quality. Storm water runoff with too many nutrients needs reduced. We need to become “carbon neutral” by producing less CO2 gas and find more ways to absorb and hold (called sequester) these carbon molecules so they don’t get trapped in the atmosphere thus warming our planet. But what can I really do and how can I help demonstrate to others we all need to care? One good answer….plant a tree.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is my annual family baking day. Ever since I learned how to bake in 4-H, I’ve gotten together at least once every winter with family to spend time in the kitchen. These occasions are a great opportunity to celebrate community, foster relationships, create delicious treats, and share stories and family recipes. If you find yourself in the kitchen this holiday season, I challenge you to use this opportunity to introduce kids to the joys of cooking and baking.

“To make the best better”—We all know the 4-H motto by heart. As 4-H members and supporters, this is what unites us—the passion and perseverance to take something that is great and pour our head, heart, and hands into creating something even better. Over the past four years of my time on the Illinois State 4-H Youth Leadership Team and my past year as Chair of the team, my driving force has been improving a team that already has so much to offer to 4-H members across Illinois.

As I reflect on my years of being a 4-H member, most of my time was spent in the Shooting Sports program at my SPIN Club. When I first started shooting, I was seven years old, out at a local gun camp. The first gun I ever owned was a pink Crickett rifle. As I grew and entered 4-H, my father took me over the SPIN Club for McLean County.  Every Tuesday night, the other members and I practiced and trained to shoot air rifles and learn important 4-H skills as well as shooting sports safety.

4-H has given me so many opportunities, especially through Shooting Sports. When I started 4-H, I didn't feel l like I would really fit in with everyone because it was all about farming and raising animals, but that wasn't the case. Shooting Sports opened a huge opportunity for me and made me feel as if it was meant for me. 

Building your leadership skills can seem scary or unachievable, but 4-H teaches us that nothing is unachievable. Here are three easy ways to build your leadership skills.  

It is important to note that everyone has leadership skills!

Text that says "4-H Celebrates Native American Heritage Month"

4-H celebrates Native American Heritage Month!

Every November we celebrate the history, heritage, traditions, and culture of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Here are some ideas of how youth and 4-H clubs can help celebrate this month!


Learn more about Native American Heritage Month, why it is celebrated, and its history and impact at


Dishes of food surrounding a globe with the words "World Food Day"

Illinois 4-H is excited to be a part of celebrating World Food Day. Along with young people worldwide, you can play a role in creating a healthy, sustainable food system for all. Here are some ideas to celebrate World Food Day, 4-H style: 

Colorful fan with the text "celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month"

¡Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana! Hispanic Heritage Month is observed each year September 15th - October 15th. This month celebrates not only the histories and cultures, but also the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors come from the Caribbean, Spain, Mexico, and Central/South America.  Ready to celebrate? Here are some ideas of how you and your club can get involved on your own, with your family, as a club, or at school.   These ideas can be done in person or celebrated virtually!

ice fishing dangers thin ice

Jake’s family farm had two ponds full of bluegill, and he had always wanted to learn how to catch them through the ice. His friend, Carmen, had been taught how to ice fish by her uncle from Wisconsin a couple years before, so they decided on a Saturday afternoon adventure to try their luck.

Walking up to the first pond, Carmen stopped Jake for a moment. 

4-H member making mask
4-H member Ava Anderson looked for the positive of COVID-19 and
Tree Stand Safety

It wasn’t that long ago a teenage boy was working a part-time job at a family-owned tree nursery when he was privy to a conversation between the business owners about the loss of young trees due to whitetail deer browsing and antler rubbing.    The boy’s interest peaked on the opportunity to learn how to archery hunt during the upcoming fall season.   No one had every showed him how to hunt, but he’d been reading, practicing his shot, and was willing to learn as he went.    The nursery owners welcomed his enthusiasm and granted him permission.

photo of 4H members

Edwards County 4-H members answered the call to help their neighbors, just when it is needed most. 

Prior to the stay-at-home order in March, 22 4-H members and 15 volunteers met at the Country Financial Hall in Albion and packed meals for the area food banks. One in four Illinois children experience hunger. With several families facing unexpected layoffs and job losses, the 10,152 meals the 4-H members provided are making a difference in these communities, says Mark Becker, University of Illinois Extension 4-H food system specialist. 

One thing we can count on during uncertain times is our 4-H values.

Now, more than ever, Illinois youth need their 4-H family. Together, youth and adults can use this time to demonstrate values like independence, belonging, generosity and mastery. The lessons Illinois youth learn today will shape them as leaders for a lifetime. While using our virtual platforms, we can work together to model perseverance throughout Illinois communities and beyond. 

I wish I could promise you that the fair is going to work out the way you want. I wish I could tell you that you'll have the success you worked for. I wish I could tell you that you'll be recognized for your hard work, your kindness, your dedication, your grit. I wish I could tell you that others who didn't work as hard won't stand ahead of you in the ring, won't get the bigger trophy or the prettier ribbon.

Now, go back and read that again, except this time, instead of "the fair," substitute "your life."

The July 21, 1969 issue of The Columbia Missourian said this about Michael Collins, third astronaut joining Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the first landing on the moon:

"While the world breathlessly watched and listened for the moon walk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Mike Collins cruised in orbit overhead. His job was to undertake emergency action if something went wrong, or to pick them up from the lunar module for the return to Earth if everything went right.

I've smiled every morning for the past six days.
I smile because every morning, I check the Farmfluencer website and see that Montgomery County 4-H member Kendall Knodle's amazing video is still in the running to win.

I smile because it's a good video, based on science, featuring University of Illinois' top crop researchers who are searching for answers to feeding the world's growing population.

I smile because Kendall is 16, and in addition to doing all the things 16-year-olds do, he's out climbing on his tractor and dreaming of saving the world.

It has been a difficult month in rural America. The rain is relentless. Levies are breaking. What crops were planted are washing away. We're all tired and hoping for a break in the weather.

Farming is filled with opportunities for life lessons, but that's nothing new to farm families. We have lessons for breakfast! Let's review some important lessons for this show season.

Be your best self

They do it because someone did it for them.

They do it because their parents modeled the behavior and created a mindset in them that helping others is important.

Mainly, they do it for Deb. Debra Hagstrom has led the Illinois 4-H equine program for years as Extension equine specialist. In addition to hosting the annual contest, she mentors the young people advancing to national competition in horse judging, speaking, horse bowl, and Hippology. That one-on-one time creates lasting bonds with the young people going through her programs.

For 1,347 4-H members, the next few days will bring the end of high school and the beginning of what comes next.

What comes next may mean new homes, new friends, new jobs, new pursuits, new lives. Wherever and whatever next means for you, let 4-H carry you through the challenging days. Never doubt you are well prepared for what comes next.

Sometimes learning comes in thundering waves; other times as tiny nuggets of wisdom.

More than 500 4-H members studied through the winter and early spring to learn as much as they could about the horse industry. They competed in four regional contests until the best of the best remained to compete in the Illinois State 4-H Horse Bowl, Hippology, and Horse Speaking contests held on campus April 13-14.

Never doubt how hard Katelyn Hamilton is willing to work. The Randolph County 4-H member has faced serious challenges, yet she has emerged stronger and more determined in spite of them.

Katelyn spent the first 28 days of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit. Doctors said she would likely be wheelchair bound and unable to care for herself. She proved them wrong. At age 5, Katelyn's family home was destroyed, and her family was forced to move frequently.

Aaron Dufelmeier is living the dream, just down the road from where his Extension journey began.

Dufelmeier manages the Extension program in Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties. In April, he hosted Dr. Kim Kidwell, dean of the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson, interim director of U of I Extension.

The benefits of overnight camping extend far beyond the simple joys that come from eating roasted marshmallows and jumping into a cool lake on a hot day. Overnight camping is a valued part of the 4-H experience for thousands of children each year and teaches valuable lessons, whether campers realize it at the time or not.

It's that time of year when the minds of 4-H storytellers turn to impact reports.

My understanding of impact has changed in the years since I first studied ag communications in the basement of Mumford Hall. It took real life to show me what my professors tried so hard to teach me.

Impact isn't what I did; impact is WHAT CHANGED IN OTHERS because I did something.

In my early days "doing" 4-H work, I thought it was enough that I held events. I counted heads in the room and thought I was doing my job. Thirty-five years later, I finally get it.

On Purpose. With Purpose.
There is a difference.

Many of us do great things with purpose. We are amazing employees. We conquer difficult tasks. We study with purpose, work with purpose, live with purpose, but how much of what we do with purpose is on purpose? There is a difference.

On purpose means there was a conscious choice, a deliberate decision with mindful clarity to do something, to be something. On purpose actions are driven by choice. How many of the great things you do are by your choice?

Peter and Isaac didn't know each other before arriving at 4-H Memorial Camp, but two days in, each has found his new best friend. There's something about fresh air, campfires, starry nights, and lake water that brings out the best in humanity.

For kids in need in Boone and Winnebago counties, kindness is wrapped in a warm sleeping bag.

For four years, 15-year-old 4-H member Serenity Brockman has used her allowance and birthday money to buy child-themed sleeping bags for children in need. This year, Serenity enlisted the help of her fellow Boone County 4-H Federation members.

"It just made me so sad how many children were affected," Serenity said. She has learned of children living in poverty, children abused or neglected, and children affected by accidents or house fires.

Sometimes we take for granted the simple, everyday, every-year things which make our lives complete. Take birthdays. We all have them, but 4-H members learned that many of their peers don't get to enjoy birthdays in the same way the 4-H youth do.

Carl Schmidgall knows how to take a bad situation and make it better.

His sister, Korri, wrecked her Jeep when she hit a patch of black ice coming home from basketball practice. She was fine, but the Jeep was totaled. It sat in the machine shed at home for two years before Carl decided to rebuild it, bigger and better.

We have a holiday tradition in our home. No, it has nothing to do with putting up decorations or cooking our favorite holiday recipe. Ever since the children were old enough to understand, we always try to do one thing.


Every time we go in a store to shop, we drop something in the kettle. The thought is simple, if we have enough money for ourselves; we have enough for others. You may have a similar tradition, such as sponsoring a child or senior citizen during the holidays, or supporting other local giving opportunities.


We asked 4-H members and leaders the things for which they were thankful. Their answers make us smile during this time of Thanksgiving.

1. Life Skills

When your survival depends on feeding a growing world population, who better to call than a 4-H alum who has spent his professional career working to maximize crop outputs on every acre. Sam Eathington's connection to agriculture started young growing up on a grain and livestock farm in west-central Illinois.

"4-H gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science behind the farm," Sam said. "Although I grew up on farm, exposure to new people and elements of agriculture fostered a passion that I still apply in my work today."

October 1 starts the biggest week in 4-H, National 4-H Week. 4-H membership is 6 million strong across the country, with more than 25 million alumni.

Last year, more than 25,000 youth were 4-H club members in Illinois; another 170,000 youth were involved in 4-H through camps, after school programs, and school enrichment programs.

BRANDT believes so much in the future of agriculture, the Illinois Ag company put the icons of the two greatest youth development organizations, 4-H and FFA, on the hood of its race car. Early September was the unveiling of the 4-H clover-adorned racecar, and Illinois 4-H was at Chicagoland Speedway, courtesy of BRANDT and company founder Evelyn Brandt Thomas, to see it all happen.

Google made quite a splash at the Illinois State Fair.

Rob Biederman, head of Google's Midwest external affairs office, and Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of National 4‑H Council, announced a $1.5 million dollar grant from Google to the national 4-H program to expand nationwide computer science education. The pair made the announcement in the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds surrounded by more than 3,000 Illinois 4-H members and their families during the Illinois State Fair.

To say we at Illinois 4-H are happy is an understatement. We're giddy.

To say 4-H at the Illinois State Fair was a success would be an understatement. Stir gently the 3,300+ exhibitors, a national media announcement with representatives from Google and Gov. Bruce Rauner present, perfect weather, an estimated 20,000 visitors to our exhibit area, and I can't imagine a better recipe to showcase what it means to be an Illinois 4-H member.

Google is donating $1.5 million dollars to advance computer science education around the country. Illinois was chosen for the site to make that historic announcement during the Illinois State Fair.

It's like suddenly seeing the world in a new way.

That's how teens attending the Illinois 4-H Illini Summer Academies describe their time studying with University of Illinois instructors this week.

From quantum mechanics and mutagenesis to honey bee health and family interactions, U of I staff allowed Academy teens to peek in the windows of emerging technologies, scientific investigation, and human development explored on this great campus.

hereford cow drawing

As we look toward a summer filled with 4-H shows, we encourage you to remember this:

It's never about winning; it's about being part of something more than yourself.

It's never about being perfect; it's about being your personal best.

It's never about beating someone else; it's about beating your last effort.

It's never about losing; it's about learning what you can to keep from losing the next time.

It's never quitting, never giving in or giving up, never selling out or selling yourself short.

Lessons come wrapped in all types of boxes. Here are five lessons every 4-H member knows.

#5: You aren't going to win every time, and that's okay. How you lose is just as important as how you win.

What makes an Illinois teenager decide to travel to a new country and live for weeks with a family she's never met? For Lana Fitzgerald, it's adventure of the unknown.

Lana was part of the 4-H intercultural exchange program and lived with a host family in South Korea for four weeks last summer. Korea holds special meaning for the Champaign County 4-H member. She first studied the country as part of her 4-H intercultural project. Since then, Lana has immersed herself in Korean culinary, music and drama.

Some members do 4-H projects, then there is Anthony Warmack's version of a 4-H project. For years, he has made environmental sciences his passion.

Robert Woodruff of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance has collaborated with Anthony on water quality and nutrient loss projects in the area. "I was impressed with his knowledge and ability to understand the information we were researching."

Anthony is a recent 4-H alum from Grundy County who now works at the county Extension office. Anthony attacked natural resource education in three-phases.

4-H, the largest youth development program in the nation, is calling on all alumni to raise their hands to help bring 4-H to 10 million youth by 2025. Currently 4-H empowers nearly six million young people in every county across America, including 26,500 4-H'ers in Illinois.

Some 4-H teens have taken the "hands to larger service" challenge of the 4-H pledge to heart and focused their 4-H energy feeding their neighbors. Clare VanSpeybroeck was recently honored by Illinois 4-H as a state community service award winner for her efforts fighting local hunger. Together, with her team of 4-H Hunger Ambassadors in Rock Island County, more than 115,000 meals have been distributed in Rock Island County alone.

We're listening now more than ever.

Jump over to and look at the new Illinois 4-H website. Yeah, we did that!

Illinois 4-H is a thriving, growing, vital program reaching nearly 200,000 Illinois youth a year. In the past five years, while other youth organizations have faced a decline, Illinois 4-H has grown and not just a tiny amount. We've grown 24 percent.

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.

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.

"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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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 and register as an Illinois 4-H alum.

The month of April provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the service of our youngest heroes, military children. Established by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1986, the designation of April as the Month of the Military Child acknowledges the significant role military youth play in our communities. They are resilient and take pride in their service to our Country. They deserve our appreciation and support.


Volunteers are the heart of Illinois 4-H, and the University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development program salutes its 13,000 volunteers during National Volunteer Week, said Patricia McGlaughlin, U of I Extension youth development specialist. Statewide, volunteers support nearly 200,000 4-H participants in Illinois. National Volunteer Week runs April 12-18.

Twenty-one Illinois 4-H members have accepted the challenge to advocate on behalf of 4-H and the livestock industry as the members of the state's first State 4-H Livestock Ambassador Team.

"These young people are passionate and knowledgeable about livestock production and management," said Dan Jennings, University of Illinois Extension animal science educator.

Illinois 4-H members pursuing advanced education will benefit from a donation to the Illinois 4-H Foundation. Archer Daniels Midland Company recently donated $25,000 to the Illinois 4-H Foundation to support the Superior Young Producer Award college scholarship program.

Since its beginning, Illinois 4-H has believed in the importance of young people being engaged, well-informed citizens. By connecting to their communities and leaders, youth understand their role in civic affairs and are able to expand their role in decision-making processes. Citizenship is one of the core components of Illinois 4-H. It's one of only three areas we find so important, we call them "mission mandates." One key way we fulfill that mandate is through a two-day real-life engagement with state legislators--4-H Legislative Connection.

Local 4-H clubs and their members will be improving the local community, thanks, in part, to grants from Farm Credit Illinois. Farm Credit Illinois recently awarded $10,500 to 42 4-H clubs and seven FFA chapters in the area it serves through its annual community improvement grant program. Clubs received up to $250 each for specific community projects.

Four 4-H members earned the right to advance to the National 4-H Dairy Quiz Bowl Contest during the statewide 4-H contest held Saturday, March 7 at the Chateau Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington.

Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp will benefit from a $5,000 grant from The Grainger Foundation. The grant will allow for an expansion of activities geared to increase youth interest in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM).

A team of 4-H members from Morgan County claimed the top county awards at the 2015 State 4-H Meats Judging Contest held March 7 at the Meats Lab on the University of Illinois campus. During the contest, youth had to provide quality grading scores for beef, lamb and pork carcasses, as well as various cuts of meat.

"Participants also had to identify many different retail cuts, identifying the specie, wholesale cut and retail name," said Dan Jennings, U of I Extension state animal science educator.

As we fill our bellies this Thanksgiving holiday, some 4-H youth will have a greater appreciation for the food set before them.

The 4-H Hunger Ambassadors in Milan held a Hunger Banquet, but not everyone filled their plates. In fact, many didn't even get a seat at the table.

It speaks well of a state program when one of it's former longtime employees is honored for the magic they did for generations of 4-H members. Illinois can be proud.

Ten Illinois 4-H teens were honored as Illinois 4-H Key Award winners for their leadership, community service and mentoring activities throughout their 4-H career. The award is sponsored by the H. Richard and Sarah F. McFarland Endowed 4-H Youth Leadership Development Support Fund from the Illinois 4-H Foundation.

The 4-H Food Smart Families program teaches youth and their families to prepare nutritious meals and be physically active. At the same time, it gives teens practical experience at teaching, something many teens see as a potential career. That's a win-win situation according to U of I Extension Youth Development Educator Jamie Boas.

This summer, nearly two dozen soon-to-be-seniors from Danville High School attended 15 hours of training to learn how to be teen teachers who mentor the second and third graders who attend the Danville Family YMCA's summer camp.

Illinois 4-H has surpassed more than 100,000 packaged meals for the hungry in 11 months through the 4-H Feeding and Growing Our Communities program.

The latest push came July 15 when more than 200 volunteers helped the Quad Cities 4-H Teen Hunger Ambassadors prepare more than 40,000 meals. The meals will be distributed locally by the River Bend Foodbank.

What do you do with a shoe that you aren't wearing anymore? If you're a 4-H member in Kendall County, chances are you've turned it into a garden planter. With instruction from 17-year-old 4-H Member Cydney Olah, youth took shoes from an area resale store and created a garden planter. 


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

More than 200 youth experienced a bit of college life during the 2014 Illinois 4-H Illini Summer Academies, sponsored by University of Illinois Extension in cooperation with several departments on campus. High school youth stayed in dorms, experienced campus recreation and food, and spent 15 hours with U of I faculty and grad students in 11 departments during the 4-day conference.

University of Illinois Extension and the American Heart Association (AHA) teamed up to motivate children at the Joliet Park District Hartman Center to live healthier lives. Megan Walsh, U of I Extension youth educator, organized the interactive educational event, which was led by David Lee, an associate board member of the AHA and contributor to the Disque Foundation. Lee's aim was to inspire children to increase physical activity, improve eating habits, and get enough rest.

The burning question in Logan County was "Are you smarter than a 4-Her." The answers came during a fast-paced trivia contest, sponsored, in part, by Farm Credit Illinois. Acting on a suggestion by the county's Expansion & Review Committee, the trivia contest hoped to provide opportunities for youth across the county to interact and build new relationships. Categories included sports, movies, famous 4-H alumni, impossible questions, cooking terms, name the year, history and Logan County 4-H.


Not many 4-H members can say they've been to the White House—by special invitation. Two members of the Chicago Knights, a 4-H robotics club, can. John Moore of Lincoln Park High School and Lydia Wolfe, Hales Franciscan High School, received the invitation to demonstrate the robot they built for "aerial assist" season.

"The Chicago Knights are a great example of a well-rounded robotics club focused on youth learning critical technical and teamwork skills that will help them succeed in life," said Bob Smith U of I Extension robotic educator.

Leaving a child at camp for the first time can be scary for parents. In nearly 20 years at 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello, Curt Sinclair, University of Illinois Extension statewide camping educator, said he never tires from getting these types of emails from parents: "I wanted to reach out to you because yesterday, I dropped my kids off at camp. I was very worried and scared, probably more than the kids. After I met the staff, all my worries were over. There is no way I could ever provide this experience for my kids alone. My father served in the Air Force.

Sometimes, it's hard enough just following a step-by-step recipe. Now, imagine you've been given a basket of ingredients and told to "make something." That's what teens in this year's Illinois 4-H Food Challenge pilot program faced. Several counties are holding mini competitions where youth demonstrate their mastery of food preparation.

Four teens represented Illinois at the National Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. this spring. These 4-H science ambassadors, who hail from DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties, manned a water science booth at the popular national event. All of the youth are members of a special interest

Through a pilot initiative engaging 50 youth in Rockford, Madison and Elgin, 4-H youth in Illinois are building science and engineering skills for the future. Using open-source software and simple microcontroller boards called Arduinos, these youth are writing computer programs, learning how to solder, building simple circuits, and designing sensor-based systems to address everyday problems.

Eric's pony was being a typical pony on show day; stubborn.

For two years, Eric struggled to find common ground with his pony. The pony didn't do anything Eric asked of him on show day, said Extension Program Coordinator Amanda Fox. Eric's attempt to show the pony left him exhausted and frustrated, so much that he decided not to compete in the rest of the day's events.

Zoe Vicich wants people to think twice before tossing their pop tabs. Vicich, 14, of Sandwich, hopes to donate one million pop tabs to the Ronald McDonald House Charities so families will have a comfortable place to go while they are caring for a child in the hospital. It's a goal she'll need a little help to hit.

"If more people get involved, I can get there," Vicich said. "But if I collect 10 pounds a year, I'll have to do it until I'm 80."

It's easy to tell friends and family about 4-H. Now, imagine you're a teenager and you're telling your story at the Illinois State Capitol.

This spring, 49 4-H members did just that. The youth were specifically trained, either through the Speaking for Illinois 4-H educational program or as members of the Illinois State 4-H Youth Leadership Team.

The DeWitt County "Where Does My Lunch Come From?" 4-H SPIN Club gave 4-H members a chance to check out local agricultural sites to see where their food comes from and how it is raised or grown.

Each day, the youth prepared a lunch which related to those agricultural businesses they toured.

"In addition to knowing where their food came from, we wanted youth to see ALL the possibilities in creating a business through a passion they might have," said Sherry Fulton, U of I Extension 4-H youth development educator.

The competition is only a small part of the real accomplishments which happen through Illinois 4-H robotics. A group of Will County 4-H participants discovered that when 24 teams showcased their skills in the regional 4-H Robotics Box Bot Showcase in Joliet, hosted by University of Illinois Extension at the Weitendorf Agriculture Education Center.

All the youth in the clubs are 4-H members, thanks, in part, to the Illinois 4-H Foundation. This National 4-H Council grant-funded program impacted more than 100 Will County kids this year.

The real world is a lot tougher than most eighth graders know. Extension's "Welcome to the Real World" brings home that lesson. WTTRW is an experiential learning simulation which shows youth real facts about how the careers they choose and the decisions they make effect the money they have to spend or save each month.

Some 4-H stories touch your heart in ways you don't ever forget. Meet 4-H member Tiffany Williams from Clark County who, as part of the five-member 4-H QOV Spinners 4-H Club, has donated time, talent and material to make beautiful "Quilts of Valor" for veterans of the area. Deb Lindley, the leader of the QOV Club, is a former 4-H member who "learned how to quilt from the best, Eleanor Markwell," said Extension 4-H Program Coordinator Cartha Gustafson. At 88 years young, Markwell is still a 4-H leader in Clark County, completing 58 years of dedicated volunteer service.

Any better, and he'd been perfect. Darren Hawkins of Grundy County missed only one clay target throughout a full day of shotgun trap competition at the Illinois 4-H Shooting Sports State Shoot held Saturday, May 31 at the Brittany Shooting Park in Bunker Hill. Hawkins hit 74 of his 75 targets to take first place in the shotgun division. The competition was the first state contest held since the shooting sports program began in Illinois in 2009. Dan Dawson, state Extension educator, said the meet followed the strict guidelines established by the National 4-H Shooting Sports program.

One never knows how 4-H experiences can shape one's future. Josh Cole Brodnax participated in 4-H nutrition sessions while a youngster living in public housing in East Moline, thinking that would be his only experience with 4-H. Little did he know that 4-H would find him again as a teen and hone his leadership skills into being an advocate for healthy living and good nutrition to underserved younger youth living as he had.

Dozens of local youth have discovered a way to combine summer fun with learning. They will participate in an interactive activity that challenges youth to use critical thinking and science skills to address an agriculture problem.

Led by Illinois 4-H members, the Fish Farm Challenge activity is part of the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience, presented by Monsanto, which aims to make agri-science relevant and fun for youth.

A group of intrepid middle school investigators, with the help of young scientists from area universities, solved the last of three crimes during their six-week stint as "Library Investigators."

The 12 youth representing six Waukegan schools worked alongside scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois.

Sometimes, the best teachers are those who once learned the same lessons in the same setting. 4-H alumna Rachel Skelton, who currently serves on the Illinois State 4-H Youth Leadership Team, returned to Logan County to teach teambuilding skills to the 4-H Leadership class.

"She really made this fun," said Hannah, a 4-H participant.

For 25 years, University of Illinois Extension's "Simply the Best" program in Washington County has mixed the right ingredients to inspire positive change in the lives of 250 junior high youth there a year.

Members of the Grandview Pioneers 4-H Club chose aerospace as their theme for the year, and each month, these young people, who hail from Kansas, Shiloh, Paris and Ashmore in Edgar County, have completed aerospace-related activities. Recently the group made kites, and despite a light mist, flew them.

Elizabeth Auer was one of the first 4-H Shooting Sports members when the program began in Illinois in 2009. Now, at 23, she's the first former member to return as a shooting sports volunteer leader by completing training in rifle and archery.

As the competition season for Illinois 4-H robotics clubs draws to a close, several clubs continue their community programs and trainings for younger members. The Techno Ferret 4-H Club has a great video created by their senior 4-H members about what it means to be a member of their club. 

In Macon County, members of the 4-H RoboStorms Robotics Club were part of the Decatur Business Expo. Members of the team demonstrated exciting technology, such as "Makey Makey."

Kane County 4-H members gained first-hand knowledge of the important roles local government officials play during the 22nd annual 4-H Government Day. The 4-H youth shadowed more than 30 county officials, experiencing the inside of a County Board meeting, courtroom proceedings, and other government departments and offices.

State's Attorney Joseph McMahon, who has participated for four years, said he looks forward to meeting with the 4-H members each time.

Youth in Macon County now know more about how their food is produced, thanks to Illinois 4-H's Tech Wizards program. 4-H Tech Wizards is a national mentoring program funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Brent Miller is teaching students to give back to their community; his life is their living example of that lesson.

Brent, his wife Holly, and their three children live in Ullin. For the past 11 years, Brent has served as a 4-H leader for the Ridge Runners 4-H Club. Since he is also the ag teacher at Century, he has combined the FFA and 4-H together by making a 4-H SPIN (SPecial INterest) club called the Century Ag Shack Traditions 4-H Club.

Charlee Walker didn't tell anyone her plan, so imagine the surprise when the 17-year-old 4-H member from Edgar County walked into her senior prom wearing a dress she made . . . out of magazine pages. It took this creative young lady more than two months to design, weave, fold, staple and hot glue her one-of-a-kind party dress. She used photography magazines as her "fabric" because the pages were colorful. Working without a pattern, the teenager said she just "kinda winged it." She also made a bow tie and boutonniere out of paper for her lucky date.

How do you get kids interested in horticulture? In Montgomery County, you show them plants that eat things.

4-H members learned how and why carnivorous plants eat insects. Andrew Holsinger, U of I Extension horticulture educator, provided the hands-on instruction. When the county's classroom teachers heard about the program, the phones began ringing in the Montgomery County office.

Now, more than 600 youth in 25 classrooms in the county know more about the life of carnivorous plants, and might just think it's cool to one day be a botanist.


Kids love to figure things out. Nearly 140 kids stretched their minds and investigative skills at the University of Illinois Extension 4-H Clover Clinic held at Illinois Central College in East Peoria. They gained new skills from more than 30 interactive workshops, such as ballroom dancing, origami, DNA extraction, farm animals, and robotics.

The goal was to inspire kids to explore their interests and be engaged in their communities. One of the workshops showed how to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

It's what every good carpenter knows; "measure twice, cut once." Now, 4-H members in DeWitt County know the benefit of careful planning after attending a woodworking workshop which taught basic carpentry skills, such as using a scroll saw, chop saw, band saw, belt sander, planer, drill and air nail gun.

Working cooperatively with Lowe's Home Improvement stores and the Clinton FFA, each member completed, from scratch, a squirrel feeder. The 4-H motto for the day was "measure twice, cut once." They also learned the benefit of taking their time when sanding and staining.


Robots will take over the ARC this Saturday during the sixth annual Illinois State 4-H BoxBot Robotics Competition. Approximately 300 students within 45 teams from across the state will exhibit their robots and compete against each other.

In addition to the student competitors, University students from the colleges of Engineering and ACES will man booths and present their own projects in the STEM field, according to Smith. The Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab, which focuses on innovation, fabrication and design, will also be there with a 3-D printer.


It's one thing to show livestock; it's another to understand the science behind raising livestock which will produce well and provide wholesome product for consumers. That's the vision which led DeWitt County 4-H volunteers Larry Martin and Doug North to host a livestock clinic which attracted youth from nine counties.

Kendall County 4-H Federation members gave back to their community by supporting local food bank organizations, including the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) in Geneva. The group helped pack 651 "backpacks" which will provide for 11,718 meals for hungry residents in the region.

Janet Pezzelle, a volunteer leader of the Forsyth Fantastics 4-H Club for 15 years, said she wanted to expose her club members to something new. Her "something new" was bright, shiny and full of bling, glass mosaics. Members brought in items from home as the base for their mosaic project, and with a little instruction from Glass House owner Marilyn Trebacz, the 4-H members went about designing their own original art pieces which will be exhibited at the Macon County Fair 4-H Show at the Decatur Arts Council in July.

You never know where the inspiration for a career will come. For 16-year-old Susannah Hall, it came from the 4-H knitting project she taught herself by reading a how-to book at the library. Susannah is a 5-year member of the Ft. Sumpter 4-H Club. She recently taught other 4-H members and parents in Edgar County the basics of knitting, and each participant successfully completed a drink cup cover.

The next time you use the phrase "walking on eggshells," you'll think of a group of 4-H afterschool youth in Decatur who actually walked on eggs as part of their 4-H embryology project study.

Thirty years ago, a young man job-shadowed a Grundy County judge as part of University of Illinois Extension's Local Government Day. That young man is now the 41-year-old deputy sheriff for the county. He told his story during this year's Local Government Day and encouraged youth to make the most of their time visiting local officials. To date, the program has impacted the lives of 22,000 youth in its 35-year history.

"I hear that train a-comin," and it's being led by a group of former 4-H members who found each other on the University of Illinois campus years after spending a summer together as 4-H counselors.

David and Daniel Fulton, twin sons of U of I Extension staff Sherry and John Fulton, first met Grady and Kelly Ryan, another set of twin 4-H members from Dewitt County, at 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello.

When a tornado hit Washington, Ill., 4-H families across the state were quick to respond, due, in large part, to the work of the Extension staff in Woodford County. Through the efforts of 4-H clubs, families and friends, $10,000 in gift cards have been donated to help the families who lost homes.

"It has been humbling to witness the outpouring of support coming from across the state during these past three months," said Cathy Blunier, Extension youth educator. "Please know that the families send heartfelt appreciation for all that has been done to assist them during this time."

The following message came from a middle school teacher in Northern Illinois where Illinois 4-H has teamed with National 4-H Council to provide grant-funded 4-H robotics special interest clubs. She has seen the change in one young boy's life because of our valuable program.

"One of my boys has a difficult home life. His parents are getting a divorce, and it was really affecting his school work and attitude. He joined the club because his best friend also joined, but he was hesitant that it was for "losers."

4-H members are four times more likely than their peers to give back to their communities according to the 10-year longitudinal study conducted by Tufts University. Fulton County 4-H members have the stockings to prove it!

Each February, members sew Christmas stockings and write notes in Christmas cards to be sent to the troops overseas as part of the Operation Santa program based in Bloomington. Operation Santa works year round to gather homemade stockings, collect items to go in the stockings, and raise money for postage.

4-H is fun, and so can the 4-H Pledge. The Champaign County 4-H Teens as Teachers wanted to spice things up during their summer 4-H youth programs, so they started each meeting with this peppy version of the 4-H pledge.


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Twenty-five teams of middle-school students from DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties displayed their technical, creative and teamwork skills during the 4-H Robotics Box Bot Showcase in Elgin on Saturday, March 22. Throughout the afternoon, 4-H members showcased their Lego Mindstorm robots in creativity, table performance, and technical categories. They also completed a teamwork challenge without their Bots.

The Marion County 4-H livestock judging team had phenomenal success during the 2013 judging season, and that success is hard to contain. Last weekend, more than 200 youth participated in the county's annual livestock judging contest in Salem, with youth traveling from Indiana, Oklahoma and Oregon just to compete and learn from the successful team members.

Youth can and do make a difference in their communities, and Sparta (Randolph County) Lincoln eighth grader Conner Stewart is among them. Conner sells or donates farm-fresh eggs to a variety of local people and the Sparta Food Pantry through his enterprise, Conner's Cluckers. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months. His mother Charlene said that was a frightening moment because Conner was not verbal.

For the past 25 years, the Buttercups 4-H Club in Clinton County has made it a tradition to bake bread on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The members have made a wide variety of bread creations including cinnamon rolls, bread in a bag, mini loaves and standard bread.

This year's concoction was French bread. "One goal of the club is to be a place where members can learn to make inexpensive projects, as well as test out various project areas," says Diane Sinclair, the Buttercups leader. (Reprinted with permission, Illinois Farmer Today)


Illinois 4-H strives to teach life skills. Sometimes those life skills may seem very simple to us, but are truly life changing. Read these words from a mother who knows just how important 4-H has been to her son.

"We have five sons adopted form China. Jason came home in 2010 at age 6 ½ with an unrepaired single ventricle heart, skeletal (28 pounds), horrific scars on his arms and legs and scared of EVERYTHING, but especially any kind of ANIMAL.

The pilot program for the 4-H Teens as Teachers grant has wrapped up, and the results prove the concept of using teens to teach peers is solid for both the participants and the teen mentors. The following testimonials speak to the impact for 4-H Teen Teachers.

University of Illinois Extension Statewide Camping Educator Curt Sinclair knew in his heart that serving as a 4-H camp counselor changed lives. Now he has the proof to back up his beliefs. In a recent survey conducted by U of I Extension for 4-H Memorial Camp, the comments from the teen counselors showed the impact of the experience on their lives. A few comments follow: