John G. Lilly grew up in Hamilton County, Florida. He attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship, where he earned a Bachelors’ degree, and Florida A&M University, earning a Master’s Degree; both degrees were in Agricultural Education. He taught Vocational Agriculture at Hamilton County High School and was the FFA Advisor, then joined the Alachua County Extension Office as Courtesy Agent in 1986. In 1988, he was the 4-H Coordinator in Jefferson County, initially with FAMU. In 2000, his position was transferred to UF/IFAS Extension with an Extension faculty appointment. In 2009 he became the Jefferson County Extension Director.
Lilly’s major programs are based on input from an effective advisory committee and input from local clientele: 1)Expand, Strengthen and Support School Activities and Community Clubs, 2) Expand Youth Knowledge through Camping and Environmental Education Activities.
He has enrolled more than 30% of age-eligible youth in Jefferson County in 4-H Clubs. Enrollment in nine 4-H community clubs; and in sewing, cooking, natural resource/activity, home school and school Clubs has increased 2%-3% each of the past several years. However, due to COVID, enrollment is down significantly. His 4-H programs are designed to serve all youths, even the non-traditional youths such as at-risk and handicapped. Participation of black and other minority youth is above the parity level for youth and considerably above the overall minority percentage within the County – 30%. In addition to the traditional 4-H work typical of most counties, Lilly, personally and through his 4-H program leadership, targets “at-risk” and special needs youth, integrates these particular youth with the general 4-H participants.
For the past eight years, Jefferson County 4-H had the largest overnight 4-H Summer Camp attendance in the state (111 in 2019). Since 2003, Jefferson County 4-H has received nearly $200,000.00 from local merchants and fundraisers to send youths to Summer Camps. In addition, one of the county commissioners has organized an annual 4-H fundraiser that nets between $10,000-$18,000 annually.
The Natural Resource / Environmental Education base of much of the County’s youth programming is broad and diverse. Respondents to the Florida Needs Assessment Survey indicated that educational programming addressing at-risk youth issues was a “high priority.” A non-aggressive activity like sport fishing and other environmental-focused educational programs may reduce youth risk factors – that help keep them out of trouble. A unique aspect of the 4-H camping program is the specific subject matter that addresses educational needs and interests at the county level. Jefferson County 4-H Camps utilize the resources of the natural surroundings for campers to attain life skills in interpersonal communications, group living, personality development and leadership. The camp setting provides a unique learning environment in which mental, physical, social, and spiritual growth is maximized.
John focuses on strong programs such as Fishing for Success, Project Learning Tree curriculum, Cherry Lake summer camping, Ecology Field Day, Arbor Day Celebration, the Leon/Jefferson Counties Wildlife Day Camp, and Shooting Sports are excellent teaching activities. This focus provides an opportunity to teach life skills and foster individual growth and development – the lifeblood of 4-H while instilling a sense of stewardship in our young citizens. These activities also lead to increased awareness and understanding of the environment and its impact on future quality of life. These programs have solid support from the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, USDA NRCS staff, local Farm Bureau, County Forester, and Plantation owners. UF/IFAS and FAMU specialists participate and support many of these environmental-oriented programs.
John encourages all community clubs and county council members to participate in service projects. The 4-H Adopt-A-Road Project, the upkeep of the 4-H nature trail, the Arbor Day Event, the annual landscape project at Jefferson Senior Citizens Center, and the holiday nursing home visits with the teen council is intergenerational concern for seniors. Generosity was certainly exemplified after hurricane Michael destroyed Panama City. John recruited several teens from the teen council. They spent an entire Saturday moving and piling tree limbs, garbage, household debris, and miscellaneous items. These resilient teens worked around utility workers, fallen power lines, utility poles, and even worked through the rain. These teens have displayed practical application of Extension’s youth leadership to the Disaster Relief efforts. Significantly, youth show a touching generosity toward each other and a level of tolerance of differences, which is obviously the result of teaching by Lilly. He is conscientious in recognizing (often and in large measure) volunteerism by adults and the youth themselves.
John insists on making the environment inclusive of youth with psychosocial, physical, economic and behavioral distinctions that often bring about their exclusion from other organizations and groups. As a result, an unusually high percentage of enrolled intermediate-aged youth continues through high school, and most youths are enrolled in multiple activities, events, and clubs. This “positive recidivism” is a hallmark of his 4-H programs.
John Lilly is the kind of agent who each year sends hundreds of youth who outgrow age criteria for 4-H enrollment into the future, knowing that they have been loved. John strives to offer every youth of Jefferson County a 4-H experience that strengthens their sense of belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery.