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Key Award celebrates youth service and mentoring

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Key award winners

Illinois 4-H Key Award recognizes youth leaders who mentor and serve their community. This year eight 4-H teens were honored with this award. The award is sponsored by the H. Richard and Sarah F. McFarland Endowed 4-H Youth Leadership and Character Development Support Fund through the Illinois 4-H Foundation.

The late Richard McFarland was a 4-H and University of Illinois alum who experienced tremendous success in the food industry, agriculture, and real estate; and he shared the fruits of that success with the organizations he treasured, said Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation Executive Director.

“When it comes to professional achievement, Dick believed that character and leadership development were just as valuable as formalized classroom education,” Barnard said. “Not only did he model entrepreneurial success, but he also made sure that Illinois 4-H youth and College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences students were afforded opportunities to build a similar path.”

Each year, 4-H members who exemplify the traits he admired receive the 4-H Key Award. This year’s winners included, Anne Becker, Morgan County; Alexander Ford, DuPage County; Julia Heller, Ogle County; Anthony Joiner, Macoupin County; Lydia Oker, Kendall County; Reagan Parks, McLean County; Noah Vancina, Will County; and Dalton Wachter, JoDaviess County.

“Our awardees embody the true spirit of 4-H, having made a difference not only in their communities, but also Illinois and the nation,” said Lisa Diaz, U of I Extension assistant dean and director of Illinois 4-H.

About the Winners:

Anne Becker 
Morgan County | Agri-Stars, 4-H Federation, Illinois State 4-H Youth Leadership Team

Anne has focused much of her 4-H work on helping others. She chaired the unit food packaging event and coordinated 130 volunteers, which resulted in more than 10,000 meals that were distributed to food pantries. She presented at the Illinois 4-H Hunger Summit. Through her efforts as a hunger ambassador, 120 gallons of milk were donated to the Salvation Army. She helped collect resources for 100 birthday bags for the local woman’s center. She served as the 4-H representative on the Illinois Farm Bureau Youth Education Committee and attended National 4-H Conference. 

“Illinois 4-H is where I learned to be confident in myself and my ability as a leader.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Anne plans to study agricultural leadership at Oklahoma State University and minor in international agriculture, with hopes to work in the agritourism sector for an international company.

Alexander Ford
DuPage County | Trinity Trailblazers, Science Ambassadors, West Suburban STEM, 4-H Shooting Sports

Alex’s diverse 4-H career includes participation in over 30 project areas and many 4-H events. He competed at the national 4-H shooting sports championship. He concentrated his project work to develop his STEM knowledge and skills as he prepares for an engineering career. He’s given back to 4-H by serving as a judge at the local and state robotics competitions, teaching at workshops, leading National Youth Science Day events, and participating in Legislative Connection. His servant leadership style inspires others as he organizes service projects and writes grants to benefit 4-H service projects. 

“4-H was the key to my growth from a shy child to a confident leader because through 4-H, I had many unique opportunities to develop my own personal brand of leadership to make a difference for my club, my community and beyond.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Alex currently studies chemical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and plans to earn a master’s degree in five years.

Julia Heller
Ogle County | Grand Detour Greens 4-H Club, Federation, 4-H Ambassadors, Livestock Ambassador Team, Youth Leadership Team

Julia’s project work focuses on poultry and veterinary science. She advocates for the livestock industry as an amabassador and teaches others at events such as the Youth Livestock Conference. She led a group of teens in a Salvation Army service project during Illini Summer Academies as a production team member for the conference.

“Through 4-H, I discovered what I wanted to have as a career and developed great leadership skills. I have met and built relationships with people that will last a lifetime.”

EDUCATION & CAREERJulia will study animal science at University of Illinois in the fall with hopes of completing her DVM at the College of Veterinary Medicine. She hopes to concentrate her work in the poultry and pharmaceutical areas. 

Anthony Joiner
Macoupin County | Fantastic Fours 4-H Club, Federation, Teen Teachers, Hunger Ambassadors, Pollinator Ambassador, Unit 18 Leadership Team

Anthony helped establish the county’s 4-H hunger ambassador program that has provided support to food pantries and started  food backpack program. He gives leadership to several committees, including the county expansion and review committee. He completed Speaking for Illinois 4-H training and shared his 4-H story at Legislative Connection. He teaches pollinator habitat health at area schools.

“4-H means hard work that sometimes ends up in failures that I learn the biggest lessons from.  4-H has given me the opportunity to grow from a shy, young boy into a young adult with confidence and skills to carry me into the future.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Anthony plans to study agribusiness at Lewis and Clark Community College, then transfer to a university to complete his degree. 

Lydia Oker
Kendall County | Millbrook Mighty Ones 4-H Club, Federation, Speaking for Illinois 4-H, Livestock Ambassador Team

Lydia breeds, raises, shows, and sells pigs. 4-H taught her the importance of recordkeeping. She is active in the swine industry, including the Kendall County Pork Producers. She teaches the public at the swine birthing barn at the state fair.

“4-H means confidence.  4-H means volunteering and giving back to the community.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Lydia hopes to work in the international livestock industry, perhaps in Asia or South America. 

Reagan Parks
McLean County | Homespun and Stylistics 4-H Club, Shooting Sports, Federation, Speaking for Illinois 4-H

Reagan tutors children at risk of dropping out of school. She volunteers at the local hospital weeks and mentors a group of beginner sewers. She is co-superintendent of the county fashion revue and volunteers at a local food bank and historic garden site. She has attended National 4-H Congress, Legislative Connection, and Space Camp.

“With six older siblings who were in 4-H, I've been surrounded by 4-H my entire life. It's second nature to me; being a part of a club, helping out in my community, and serving others. 4-H is simply a way of life for me.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Reagan plans to become a women’s health nurse practitioner.

Noah Vancina
Will County | Independent member, Willing Wilton Workers, Federation, 4-H Ambassadors

Noah’s STEM projects include photography, video, computer science, and drones. He is active in citizenship and gives back to his community. His family hosted States’ International Exchange students two years.

“4-H is a community of people working together to make the best better. 4-H encourages us to never stop at ‘good enough.’ 4-H teaches us to accept that we sometimes fail, and it is from our failures that we often discover our greatest strengths.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Noah will attend Universal Technical Institute to become an automotive technician.

Dalton Wachter
JoDaviess County | Top Notchers, Federation, 4-H Ambassador, Owl Club

Dalton has shared his appreciation of the outdoors by creating bluebird trails, teaching natural resource sessions, and installing owl boxes for research. He has served on three mission trips.

“I have learned more about myself and made some great friends on this journey. 4-H offers many wonderful experiences. It has helped me grow into the person I want to be tomorrow.”

EDUCATION & CAREER: Dalton plans to study forestry and wildlife management at Highland Community College, then transfer to US Steven Point.