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Meet the Author- Claire Reach

Claire Reach is the UF/IFAS 4-H & Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Calhoun County, Florida. Claire grew up part time in Birmingham, Alabama and on her family’s farm, L & L Angus Farm, in Auburn, Alabama. The family farm is Claire’s driving force behind the passion that she has for the Agriculture side of 4-H. One of her favorite memories growing up is during calving season. “I remember the excitement of waking up early every morning to check on new calves, it was like Christmas morning, every morning!”

Claire studied Animal Science-Production Management at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. While completing her undergraduate degree, Claire competed for Auburn University’s Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, worked at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in a research barn, and continued to work on the family farm. She graduated in May of 2019 with her Bachelor of Science and a minor in Agricultural Business.

Claire recently moved to Florida in 2020 to work for Deseret Cattle and Timber, but soon realized that her passion was Extension. The position in Calhoun County became available and she jumped at the opportunity to apply for it. While Claire has not been with Extension long, she cannot wait to see what the future holds for her county. Claire says that she aspires for the Calhoun County Florida 4-H to area’s leading youth development program by creating positive change in youth, families, and communities as its members grow and share through hands-on learning and fun. “I hope that the 4-H program here will help our youth with developing their life skills and their passion for a lifetime of learning!”

For more information on 4-H, please contact your local 4-H office.  You can find your local office here.






Meet the Author- John Lilly

John teaching youth about drones

John teaches youth about STEM and agriculture during his drone class.

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.

youth in the woods

John hosts an environmental field day for Jefferson County students to teach them about conservation and invasive species.

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.

youth outdoors during a day camp

One of John’s most popular summer programs is a Field to Fork day camp, where youth learn about growing, harvesting, and preserving food, as well as careers related to the food industry.

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.

grilling day camp

John also teaches the Florida 4-H Tailgating Cookery Contest, where youth learn about different animal proteins, food safety, and grilling safety.

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.

John Lilly

John Lilly

Meet the Author – Julie P. Dillard

Hello, Northwest District 4-H family! My name is Julie Pigott Dillard, and I’m the County Extension Director and 4-H Agent in Washington County. Since 2007, I’ve worked with an amazing team of volunteers who have brought a wide range of expertise and projects to 4-Hers.

Serving as a 4-H volunteer is an incredible gift to the youth of our county, and I take my role in supporting Washington County 4-H volunteers seriously. I especially like to create and find resources that makes volunteering for 4-H easier. I want my volunteers to focus most of their efforts on working directly with youth.

baby chick in incubatorWhen I was young, I hatched, raised, and exhibited chickens and participated in 4-H and FFA poultry judging.  My 4-H position allows me to work with teachers who present the embryology project in their classrooms. We have a have a strong poultry exhibition and showmanship contest show at our annual Washington County Youth Fair that I teach youth how to prepare for each year. I also work with my Livestock 4-H Club volunteers so they can support their club members through their poultry projects. But what I enjoy most is seeing older or more experienced 4-Hers work with new showmen teaching them skills and tips to do their best at a show.

One of my other specialties has become the 4-H shotgun project. Several years ago, I realized this was an area where I could plug in and help my district. I started coordinating district-wide trainings in the shooting sports disciplines. Then, my oldest son found his niche in the shotgun project, so I started learning all I could about it. Now, I coordinate that project for the state and have created virtual matches and fall matches to give 4-Hers more opportunities for competition. I’ve also created support documents like youth record books and inventory and inspection records for volunteers. One accomplishment that has helped volunteers greatly is creating interactive, online modules to teach part 1 of the Level 1 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor Certification.

I’m a University of Florida alumni with a BS in agricultural education and communication and an MS in Extension education. In May 2022, I’ll graduate from the Florida State University with a Doctorate in Education in Learning Design and Performance Technology. My husband, Nick, and I have two boys, Cole and Cass. Cole is a new 4-H alumni attending Jacksonville University in the fall and will be a member of their shotgun team. Cass plays percussion in concert band and is an officer and member of Sure Shots 4-H Club. As soon as I finish my degree, I’ll be back reading, kayaking, and gardening as much as possible!

Meet the Author-Niki Crawson

image of Niki Crawson

Niki Crawson, Holmes County 4-H Extension Agent

Niki started her Extension career in 2007 as the 4-H Youth Development Faculty in Holmes County. After leaving the position for a short period of time due to a family relocation, she returned in 2012 and has been the 4-H Extension Agent in Holmes County since.  She earned both her Master’s degree in Public and Corporate Communication and her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Florida State University. Niki enjoys the study of personality styles and their affects on interpersonal communication and became a Real Colors Certified Facilitator as a result.  Her work has focused on volunteer management and 4-H youth development to include healthy living, social emotional living, and STEM.

Niki has worked with youth in some capacity since she was eighteen years old.  From working in a juvenile rehabilitation program, teaching high school, advocating for abused children, to 4-H youth development, Niki has worked many years in the field of developing volunteers to champion for youth and providing safe environments in which youth can learn and thrive.

Although Niki did not grow up in 4-H, she believes in its core values and mission to make the best better. There is no better way to work towards a position of leadership than to learn by doing.  She believes 4-H is the perfect environment for youth to feel safe, be successful, and learn those important leadership skills.  For more information regarding 4-H and its wonderful educational opportunities, please contact your local 4-H office.