4-H Youth Development team heralds first run of new workshop series

By Ken Keenan for Chronicle Media

During the Clovers Around the Counties Kitchen Adventures workshop, Katharine Girone, Tazewell 4-H program coordinator, demonstrated the stages of whipped egg whites. As a part of the new series, these workshops provided 4-H members with hands-on topics, helped them develop new friendships, and exposed them to new places throughout the unit.

Expanding the horizons of its members was the name of the game when the University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development team in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit offered Clovers Around the Counties, a new workshop series that concluded its run in March.

The program, designed to engage 4-H members (ages 8-18) across county lines while exposing them to project-focused topics and activities, featured 86 youths who participated in at least one of eight workshops. The workshops zeroed in on a variety of current 4-H project areas — Foods, Visual Arts, Horticulture, Geology and Livestock — as participants planned for their projects ahead of the summer slate of shows and county fairs.

“We stopped a similar program due to COVID, so this was a new attempt to engage 4-H kids in learning about different projects with local experts, and also experiencing things in different places,” said 4-H Youth Development Educator Judy Schmidt.

Added fellow 4-H Youth Development Educator Emily Schoenfelder: “We wanted to provide 4-H members with meaningful workshops that allowed them the opportunity to learn more about their current passions, explore new possibilities and make new 4-H friends from around the counties.”

Clovers Around the Counties sessions were held throughout the four counties and focused on providing 4-H members with hands-on experience concerning the wide array of projects available to exhibit at a show.

Each member participating in a workshop outside of their home county received a “passport” booklet to get stamped at each workshop they attended. Those who did so in three or more workshops in at least two different counties received a special prize, a goal that was ultimately accomplished by 16 percent of the group.

Presenters included University of Illinois Extension Master volunteers, Peoria Art Guild volunteers, livestock industry specialists, and 4-H volunteers and staff. Participants also had a chance to tour Raber Packing, in Peoria, as part of the Livestock Day workshop.

“Being able to provide real-world connections to 4-H members and their project areas was a positive bonus to this workshop series,” Schoenfelder said.

When 4-H members were asked about the most beneficial things they experienced during the workshops, they cited the following: Knowledgeable presenters; socialization with others already interested in the topic; project-focused activities; being able to do different projects with friends; and how welcomed they felt.

“The workshops created a lot of enthusiasm,” Schmidt said. “It can be intimidating to try something new, but the kids were excited to learn. There were different topics throughout the day, so they got a sample of different things. On Cooking Day, for example, they learned about making pie crusts and biscuits. At the Livestock workshop, they learned how to take care of animals. It was all very hands-on.”

With the initial Clovers Around the Counties behind them, Schmidt and Co. are hopeful that the program will continue to be offered as a means to keep 4-H members active and engaged.

“We’re trying to encourage the youth to participate in different things … to find something they’re interested in, whether it’s career or hobby,” Schmidt said. “The workshops allowed them to make connections with people who are passionate about the topics, and that rubs off on the kids and helps spark enthusiasm going forward.”