The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $100 million to 48 national, state, and local organizations to prevent disease and improve health in local communities. Peoria and Tazewell counties were recipients of one of these Community Transformation Grants for Small Communities.

The local collaborative group, Central Illinois Wellness Council, was awarded $2,404,708 for the period covering September 2012 through September 2014.

Why are the Community Transformation Grants so important? The Center for Disease Control has stated that chronic diseases cause seven out of 10 deaths each year with nearly half of adults having at least one chronic illness.

Three out of four health care dollars in the U.S. are related to chronic disease and these largely preventable diseases are more common in low-income neighborhoods. Some of the key health issues affecting low-income populations are obesity, nutrition, and physical activity.
What role does Extension have in this initiative? Healthy nutrition and physical activity are the major themes of Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program delivered to youth and low-income adults with young children.

Extension teaches nutrition education in most District 150 schools through in-school and after-school programs. Extension reaches low-income parents with young children in their homes or in group settings.

Two educators from Unit No. 11, Margaret Cover and Mekenzie Lewis, are currently serving on the education committee for the Central Illinois Wellness Council.

The education committee is focusing on two main areas: 1) nutrition education in the classroom and after school and 2) involving parents of school-aged children. These two areas mirror the major areas covered by Extension in its EFNEP programs.

Other members of the committee include Bradley University, the Red Cross, Hult Education Center, and the Peoria Health Department. By sharing resources and expertise, this partnership provides more cost-effective and complete programming for the community.

For more information about the EFNEP Program in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, please contact Margaret Cover, Extension Educator, EFNEP, at or 685-3140.

Gardening speakers bureau teaches others how to grow

Need a speaker? University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners give talks that “Help Others Learn to Grow.” Trained in horticulture by University of Illinois Extension, these men and women inspire citizens in local communities to grow their own food and improve their home landscapes.

The Master Gardener Speakers Bureau offers talks and workshops locally on several gardening topics.

Most presentations run 45 minutes and are adapted to fit the specific group’s needs. Popular topics available in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit include vegetables, herbs, and garden planning. Some Master Gardeners specialize in topics such as bee production and creating backyard wildlife habitats. Others spread the word about current pest problems such as Emerald Ash Borer and Japanese beetles.

Hands-on workshops demonstrate how to make hypertufa containers, concrete leaf casts, and holiday wreaths.

The Master Gardener Speakers Bureau offers a special educational series for the public each summer. The Illinois Central College Summer Gardening Educational Series provides Saturday workshops on various garden topics. These seminars feature the MG I.C.C.

Demonstration Garden, educate the public, and utilize the skills and strengths of the Master Gardeners. Comments received from the public include “Have you been doing this for long? I hope I haven’t missed too many classes”. “Can someone from your group give a program for my club?” This educational series won an Illinois State Master Gardener Team award in 2012.

The Master Gardener Speakers Bureau is a valuable component of the local U of I Extension horticulture program. Between Jan. 1, 2011 and Sept. 1, 2012, 18 local Master Gardener volunteers reached over 1,000 youth and adults at 4-H and scouting clubs, garden clubs, libraries, churches, civic clubs, and more. They spent over 500 hours planning and presenting these educational programs, which are valued at $10,425 (using $20.85 per hour as calculated by Independent Sector).

For more information about this Unit’s horticulture programs or to arrange for a Master Gardener talk or workshop, go to or contact Rhonda Ferree, extension educator in horticulture (

Area youth join in 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge

Youth in Mason, Peoria and Tazewell Counties joined millions of young people across the nation to become scientists for the day during the fifth annual 4-H National Youth Science Day.

This annual event sparks an early youth interest in science and science careers with hopes to reclaim the nation’s position of leadership in scientific exploration. As part of 4-H NYSD, youth participated in the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge: the 2012 National Science Experiment.

This year’s experiment, 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge, introduced youth to robotic engineering concepts as they created an autonomous robot to clean up a simulated environmental spill.

The 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge demonstrated that by utilizing engineering principles, youth can have a positive impact on communities and ecosystems. 4-H’ers enhanced their engineering skills by assembling their own Eco-Bots to manage an environmental clean-up. Youth tested the interaction between the Eco-Bot’s design features and various boundary configurations to determine the most effective clean-up solution for the simulated spill.

“Our nation is falling behind other countries in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math,” says Judy Schmidt, Extension Youth Development Educator. “However, participation in high-quality positive youth development programs like 4-H NYSD offers youth and adults an opportunity to work together engaging in scientific exploration and building the next generation of our nation’s scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

4-H members conducted the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge with over 100 students in several classrooms through Mason County. In Peoria County, 4-H Federation members conducted the challenge with 60 youth and family members as part of a National Youth Science Day event at Lakeview Branch Library.

In addition to the 4-H Eco-Bot Challenge, youth were able to see a robotics demonstration by the Brimfield HUB Robotics team, and learn how robotics are used in different ways, including for surgery at Methodist Hospital, with the bomb squad at the Peoria Police Department, and with machinists at Excel Foundry.

In Tazewell County, Extension staff and a 4-H leader led 126 youth through the challenge as part of Pekin’s Environmental Awareness Day.

For more information about the 4-H Youth Development program in the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, contact Judy Schmidt, 4-H Youth Development Educator at or 685-3140.