by Valerie Mendez | Dec 9, 2022
Valerie Mendez is the 4-H Agent in Leon County, Florida
My name is Valerie Mendez, and I am Leon County’s newest 4-H Youth Development agent. I was born in Colombia and was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. I received my bachelor’s in microbiology and cell science and will be graduating with my master’s in soil and water sciences from the University of Florida this upcoming December. My passion for science and education was nurtured throughout my childhood by many community leaders. It is my hope now, as an adult, to empower youth to reach their fullest potential in a safe, creative, and inclusive environment.
As a 4-H agent, I help implement educational curricula that develop critical thinking skills, leadership, and self-efficacy for youth through community clubs, school programs, and summer camps. I recruit, train, and support a team of volunteers as club leaders and 4-H advocates. I also collaborate with local businesses to encourage greater participation and visibility of 4-H in Leon County.
Valerie hopes to help youth learn to love science as much as she does!
One goal of our 4-H program is to increase youth knowledge and skills relating to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). With the help of our wonderful volunteers, we have developed clubs, camps, and workshops that include a wide range of STEM topics youth can participate in. For example, our horticulture club and workshops introduce youth to topics that are relevant to urban gardening such as plant propagation, succession planting, and detection of beneficial insects. Our Wild about Woods club focuses on native plants and wildlife identification with the option to participate in the Forest Ecology Contest at the North Florida Fair. I look forward to continuing to support existing STEM topics and expanding the topics we provide to include microbiology, soil science, and artificial intelligence. Apart from STEM, our program also focuses on developing communication skills, leadership, and civic engagement using 4-H’s famous learn-by-doing approach of teaching.
Valerie is fluent in English and Spanish and volunteered as a translator for 4-H prior to becoming a 4-H extension agent.
Our program would not exist without the help of our wonderful volunteers. They truly are the heart of our 4-H program. We are always in search of caring adults that are passionate about teaching youth new skills. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer in Leon County, feel free to contact me by email at email@example.com or by phone at (850)-606-5204. Please make sure to follow our Facebook page (@ UF/IFAS Leon County Extension) to stay up to date on all things Leon County Extension!
by Evie Blount | Dec 9, 2022
Hey everyone, my name is Evie Blount and I am the Gadsden County 4-H Extension Agent. I started this position in January of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic started. This is just one of the few hurdles that I had to jump over and just kept running. With everything switching to a virtual format, I worked with other agents from all over Florida to help create the Virtual Poultry and Rabbit Summer Camp and the Florida Virtual Ag Judging Contest. Both of these programs have been very successful and I have enjoyed watching them grow. This job has been super rewarding and I love getting to work with the youth and volunteers in my community.
Since becoming the Gadsden County 4-H Agent, I have done a lot of work with Animal Science that I am extremely proud of. One of them being the Animal Science Camp that I helped teach over the Summer. This program was taught as a Statewide Virtual Summer Camp and used to teach day camps in Wakulla, Gulf, Calhoun, and Gadsden Counties. This program has been a lot of fun and the youth really enjoy it.
4-H has been my home since I was 8 years old. During my life as a 4-H youth I showed rabbits, chickens, and steers in the Livestock Club and competed in livestock judging and public speaking contest. I also attended Camp Timpoochee and Horse Camp during the Summer as a camp counselor. After graduating from the Gadsden County 4-H Program, I continued to help out the Livestock Club at the North Florida Fair and at the West Florida Livestock Show. Little did I know that I would one day become the 4-H Agent in my county.
by Anitra Mayhann | Aug 29, 2022
My name is Anitra Mayhann, and I am excited to be Gulf County’s new 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Science Agent. I started my position with UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County on August 8th.
I grew up in Monticello, Florida on an 80-acre horse & black angus farm. I loved growing up in a rural area. I spent a lot of time with animals and riding horses. I received my Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications from Florida State University, and I will be pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Family, Youth & Community Sciences from the University of Florida.
I have lived in Gulf County for over 25 years and have a strong bond with this community. It is my desire to see youth and family enrichment programs continue to grow in our county- my daughters are both 4-H Alumni.
As Gulf County’s new 4-H agent, I have a desire to educate youth by highlighting both animal and natural sciences and the life skills that accompany these topics. I look forward to continuing our longstanding horse club and our livestock & beekeeping clubs. I am excited about establishing a new Archery & Shooting Club, as well as a Youth Naturalist Program in the future. I also plan to add/expand programming focused on leadership development, civic engagement, and healthy living, as I feel these are all crucial to prepare our youth to make a positive impact in their community and beyond.
Open enrollment for Gulf County 4-H clubs begins September 1. Volunteers are crucial to our 4-H program; if you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please let me know! I look forward to working in the community.
Please feel free to reach out to me by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call our office, (850) 639-3200. Please follow our Facebook page: UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County.
by Marcus Boston Jr. | Feb 4, 2022
My name is Marcus Boston and I’m the County Extension Director and 4-H Youth Development Agent in Leon County, Tallahassee FL. I’m originally from Gainesville Florida and have worked for the Leon County Extension Service as a 4-H Extension Agent, for 29 years.
I was born and raised in Gainesville FL., the location of the State 4-H office but was never involved in 4-H as a youth. I graduated from Buchholz High School in Gainesville Florida and earned a football scholarship to attend school and play football for Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. As a result of my accomplishments on and off the team, during my senior year, I was awarded the prestigious Alonzo Smith “Jake Gaither” Award. I completed my B.S. degree in Agribusiness and while working as a graduate assistant coach on the football team, I completed my M.S. in Agricultural Sciences. Prior to starting graduate school, I worked as a Sideline Commentator for the Florida A&M football games that were aired on a local radio station. After completing graduate school, I began my professional career as an extension agent with Florida A&M University and the University of Florida working primarily with 4-H Youth Development.
Marcus joins Leon County 4-H Leadership Club fun day activity in the early 90’s
When I started in Leon County one of my first assignments was to make a personal visit to all the existing 4-H clubs in the county at that time. After meeting all the wonderful volunteers and youth involved in our Leon County 4-H program, I was inspired by all the fun educational projects the youth were involved in and encouraged by the commitment and passion of the volunteers that oversaw the clubs. It is this commitment and passion that still exist today and that encouraged me to work extra hard to recruit and train volunteers so there could be more clubs for youth to join.
Marcus Boston teaching youth how to determine which eye is dominant before archery class
The establishment of my Environmental Education/Stewardship Program is one of my most successful programs here in Leon County. This program includes a series of smaller programs developed and carried out with the primary objective of educating our youth about the importance of conserving, protecting, and appreciating our environment and how they can become environmental stewards in their respective community’s. These experiences are tailored to equip youth participants with the information they need that will help them make logical decisions on environmental issues that may arise as they enter adulthood. In a few years these youth could be accountable for attitudes, perceptions and policies that affect our environment as well as our soil. A few of the environmental focused experiences that I developed and carried out during past several years as part of our Leon County 4-H program are: 4-H Ecology Field Day, 4-H Eco-ventures Spring Break Camp, Wild About Water Day Camp, The Talking Trash Day Camp, Going Green Day Camp, No Woods Left Behind Day Camp, Trees and Bows Day Camp, 4-H Wildlife and Outdoor Recreation Camp at Jubilee, and residential camp at 4-H Camp Cherry Lake held in Madison FL.
As a certified archery and canoe instructor, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching thousands of youth communications and safety skills using a canoe and a bow and arrow as the vehicle of choice. Both of which I’m still involved to this day. In an effort help young people learn the life cycle, I have taught the 4-H Embryology program in several schools in Leon County. This program has provided the opportunity for hundreds of students and teachers, to watch chicks hatch out of their eggs right before their eyes in their classroom…an experience they never forget.
Leon County 4-H Camp Counselors kickoff counselor training with gleaning 1,300 lbs. of fruit to provide for homeless shelter
The Leon County 4-H Camp Counselor Training Program has also served as one of my most successful teen leadership programs. I have enjoyed recruiting, training and equipping hundreds of teens with the skills and knowledge they need to: Manage campers at our residential camp, understand the “ages and stages” of the youth they supervised, apply strategies for teaching classes at camp, and most important, keeping camp safe for all in attendance. Due to the success of this program, former counselors from our counselor training program are viewed and recruited as potential camp staff for our State 4-H camps each year.
I have also enjoyed providing opportunities for thousands of youth in Leon County Schools to participate in The 4-H Tropicana Public Speaking Program (now known as the Florida 4-H Public Speaking Program sponsored by Florida Power and Light) which annually provides an opportunity for over 7,000 Leon County 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to develop, write, and present a speech on a topic of their interest. With so much emphasis on texting and posting…this program continues to provide a platform for young people to develop their oral communication skills which is crucial as they graduate and enter the work force.
Marcus Boston is demonstrating fitness techniques with attendees during Youth Extension Day in Leon County.
I have also been a Project Learning Tree(PLT) facilitator for over 20 years and have help to train over 500 college students from Florida State, Flagler College and Florida A&M University in how to teach youth environmental education using the PLT curriculum.
The last six years as County Extension Director has provided me an opportunity to promote UF/IFAS Extension by managing and working with my faculty in providing researched based information in the form of workshops, field days, 4-H clubs, seminars, virtual and hybrid webinars and school enrichment programs in an effort to help youth and adults in the Leon County Community find the Solutions For Their Life. I have always believed that active participation in 4-H provides youth the tools in life to be successful in whatever direction they choose to go.
by pmdavis | Dec 13, 2021
Meet Chris Lauen
“There’s No Place Like Holmes” – a phrase used in recent years to celebrate the opportunities that exist here in Holmes County, Florida. I find that many people try to figure out where our county is. Many locals say we are located right between Pensacola and Tallahassee, east and west– as well as Panama City Beach and Dothan, Alabama, north and south – right on the I-10 corridor. Many people know our community for our large annual rodeo, but most people out of state know we are their pathway to “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches”. As a rural county with limited infrastructure, many young adults move elsewhere before realizing just how good of a place Holmes County is to raise a family and do life. I like to say, “The grass is green where you water it and my family and I choose to water it here.” Holmes County is growing and Holmes County 4-H will continue to do so as well.
My name is Chris Lauen and I grew up in the heart of Holmes County. One could even say it was the heart of Bonifay, the county seat, as my childhood home initially sat a few blocks from historic “downtown area”. Our home sat right on Highway 79 and faced the First Baptist Church. It was nestled next to the old Woman’s Club building and a “stones throw” from the Courthouse, Western Auto, and the “old” Bank of Bonifay. When the Bank of Bonifay (now First Federal Bank of Florida) chose to purchase the property from the church where my father was employed, my family ended up moving the home do a different property on the edge of town. That’s right – I managed to live in the same house with two different addresses. My weekly schedule as a child consisted of early mornings and late afternoons at Bonifay Elementary because that’s where my mom spent much of her career as the music teacher. Sundays were not much different as she typically played piano at First Baptist where my father has served as Minister of Music, Administrative Pastor, and a few other titles during my lifetime. My two older siblings would describe similar childhood experiences and still call Holmes County home, but reside with each of their families outside of Atlanta.
As I reach my middle school years, I would travel all over town as far as my bicycle or roller blades would take me, but my real playground was around any water that might have a fish hiding inside. I would bounce between the local ponds and creek and even prided myself in being able to catch some fish out of the ditches in the front of my home. My family supported my love for fishing and I’ll always remember my first days of surf fishing in Destin and my first trips on party and charter boats. I remember the sight of all of the big boats lined up at the harbor, the smells of diesel fumes from the engines wafting through the air combined with the odor of fish from the morning catch, and the overwhelming feelings of excitement about new adventures. For me, a driver’s license meant that I could find even more fish to catch, but also opened the door for more passions as my grandfather and great uncle passed down their old Browning A5 shotguns and a 1917 rifle. I enjoyed my new pursuit of new species, learning how to trap hogs, figuring out the best ways to get ducks to decoy, and looking for that big whitetail buck. With a driver’s license and other church members and mentors that liked to hunt and fish, I always tried to have a box of ammunition or fishing pole within reach. In the years ahead, my life revolved around school, hunting, fishing, attending or teaching at youth camps, foreign mission trips, playing music, and serving at our church.
Graduating from high school meant that I had the credentials to be a substitute teacher. With my mom still teaching and my history of literally growing up in and around the school, it didn’t take long for teachers to keep my calendar full based off their sick and vacation days. I was 17 years old. One week I was a student and somehow the next, a substitute teacher. I had the opportunity to attend Chipola College where I earned a degree in Professional Communication. I spent extra time on campus as a result of a Fine Arts scholarship and TV production scholarship. Whether it was running sound for the next big theatrical production or operating cameras at the athletic events, there were always opportunities to jump in, learn, and serve. After graduating from Chipola College, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Communication as well as a Master’s degree in Corporate and Public Communication from Florida State University.
The Meet Family
In 2009, my days as a substitute teacher came to close as I accepted a position with the Florida Department of Health in Holmes County. From 2009-2021, I served in a few different capacities. My titles included Senior Human Services Program Specialist, Certified Contract Manager, Webmaster, and Public Information Officer. My responsibilities as a Program Lead included the development of a county-wide partnership, including youth and adults, who would advocate for change across social, political, and legal landscapes. We worked with key decision makers, elected officials, and the general public to promote healthy living for generations to come. While serving at the Department of Health, I actually had the opportunity to serve on the local Holmes County 4-H Advisory Council and even had some of our youth partner with Holmes County 4-H on some projects.
Here I am today, my family and I are starting a new chapter with 4-H and Holmes County. In ways the work is similar to what I’ve been doing for years, but in many ways – it’s different. It’s exciting to have a new platform to serve my community. I’ve been blessed with an entrepreneurial, music singing/playing, horse riding, water sport loving, wife who I met through an annual church music camp that both of our parents taught at. In my very biased opinion, we have two spectacular kids who also love the outdoors and bring us lots of joy. Our little girl, who is currently in 2nd grade, has an amazing heart and is super witty. She is very excited about her dad’s new job because she is a huge fan of arts and crafts, cooking, and music. She learned how to sleep on the front deck of a boat at an early age and already has her lifetime fishing and hunting license. Our little boy just turned two and loves a good hardback book. He’s learning new words every day, but mainly prefers to use the books as a ramp for his cars and monster trucks to drive over, around, and under. If there is a mud puddle within sight, you better hold him tight or he will be in it. As my kids grow older, I’m excited about the prospect of their future 4-H involvement.
As the new Holmes County 4-H Agent, I look forward to “making the best better” and working toward the 4-H vision of creating positive change in our youth, their families, and our communities. I guess I can say “that grass” my family is watering now includes 4-H.
We look forward to watching Holmes County 4-H grow!
by Julie McMillian | Oct 14, 2021
My name is Julie McMillan, I am the Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Science in Gulf County. I started in March 2020 around the same time that the pandemic went into full effect for many of us. It didn’t matter to me because I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be and couldn’t be more excited to serve my community through my new dream career.
I joined Gulf County 4-H when I was 8 years old as a member the Big River Riders Horse Club. The club gave me the opportunity to compete in local horse shows, attend monthly meetings and go to Camp Timpoochee each summer. By the time I turned 12, I was going to regular 4-H Summer Camp, Horse Camp, Livestock Camp and Marine Camp. As an early teen, I had the opportunity to be a counselor at the camps that I so loved. Other summer events included a chance to compete at the University of FL among my peers giving presentations, demonstrations, and attend leadership workshops for what we now know as 4-H University. My Mom said I only came home for the weekend in the summer to wash my clothes and eat, which was mostly true. 4-H has contributed significantly to who I am today. I was able to learn responsibility, leadership skills and how to make good choices while connecting with youth who would become lifelong friends. None of this enriching experience would have been possible without the Extension Agent, 4-H leaders and volunteers who gave many selfless hours to planning and preparing hands on experiences for all of us.
Before I became an Agent, I was a 4-H volunteer and parent. Little did I know all those years ago, I would end up marrying a fellow 4-Her from our horse club who’s Grandmother was our club leader. She is still our horse club leader today and an inspiration at 80 years old. My husband Russell brought two beautiful girls, Brooke and Hayleigh, into my life that are now young adults but who were involved in 4-H until the youngest graduated high school last year. Russell and I received news that we were going to have another little one last spring and Lily Ann was born in September of ’20. We get to continue the tradition in our family and she will be our next 4-H adventure.
My background has primarily been in Education. I started out teaching at a small private school and then spent many years at an Early Learning Center. Upon obtaining my Bachelors of Science Degree in 2012, was given the opportunity to join our county school system as an elementary educator. I am still known mostly for my love and passion of horses. We run a small horseback riding on the beach business and have given riding lessons to people of all ages. This fall brings me back to school as a student. I have been accepted into the Graduate Program at the University of FL in the School of Agricultural Education and Communication to pursue a Masters Degree in Extension Education. My strengths are in the area of Agriculture and Animal Science but I am also actively pursuing opportunities to teach life skills that will help youth excel with Artificial Intelligence. I am looking forward to continuing my education and expanding our 4-H programs and experiences for youth in our county and District.