Photo of Cathryn Frisby
A group of 4-H alumni enjoy 4-H so much, they’re still meeting, 90 years after the oldest began her 4-H journey.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.