URBANA, Ill. – Two Illinois teens were top finalists in the National 4-H Council Youth in Action Award contest. Erin Kistner of Witt and Aja Capel of Urbana were each in the top three nationally for their respective divisions.
Nearly 2.3 million households in rural communities face food insecurities. Erin decided she was going to do something to help students at her high school who don’t have enough to eat. With skills she learned at the Illinois 4-H Hunger Summit, she created a survey and learned nearly 25% of students at her school went hungry on weekends when they didn’t have access to school lunches.
“This fueled my desire to help,” Erin says. She started a weekend food program that gave meals to students who would otherwise go hungry. When COVID closed schools in the spring, Erin adapted her outreach, providing 3,600 meals during the early months of the pandemic.
Erin credits 4-H with teaching her the communication and leadership skills needed for the program’s success which earned her the healthy living division award. She is majoring in communications and hopes to be a television or radio broadcaster. Erin is the daughter of Denise and Tom Kistner and a 4-H member in Montgomery County.
Aja turned her hands-on, out-of-the-box thinking to her advantage. Because her learning differences made classroom studying difficult, Aja found support and belonging through a 4-H STEM mentor. She says the supportive environment helped her grown and flourish.
She launched four 4-H robotics teams and created her own enterprise, See Me in STEM. The program brings STEM accessibility to minority youth, especially girls, throughout her community. From teaching coding to building drones, Aja works with diverse youth audiences.
Aja wants to change the STEM landscape, helping youth of color see that opportunities are open to them. She was a finalist in the STEM category and is on schedule to graduate high school at 16 on her way to a career in mechanical engineering. She is the daughter of Shawn Love and Parrish Capel, and a 4-H member in Champaign County.
Illinois 4-H provides youth development programs in leadership, civic engagement, STEM, and healthy living to 200,000 youth annually in the state. More than 6 million youth nationally are celebrating National 4-H Week Oct. 4 to 10.
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