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!
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.
Greetings, my name is Marie Arick and I am the County Extension Director, 4-H and Family & Consumer Sciences Agent in Liberty County. Beginning in 2019, I stepped into this complex, but rewarding position and have worked with volunteers, community partners and other Agents on some amazing projects.
The 4-H program provides a diverse array of opportunities for youth ages 8 to 18. One great example is the Liberty County Livestock Club. This club provides a variety of animal projects and agricultural judging opportunities. As an Agent, I support my volunteers with curriculum, training opportunities and fund raising. This club successfully fund-raised enough money to buy a set of portable livestock scales to aid with animal projects.
School enrichment is a large part of 4-H programming for Liberty County youth. The two most successful are the Ag Adventures and the Embryology in the Classroom programs. Ag Adventures introduces youth to many crops and their uses. While teaching cotton in the field during this program, it surprised me how many youths did not know that our ‘paper’ money contains cotton. With embryology, each year is met with excitement when we enter the classroom with the incubators and eggs. The daily lessons include learning the parts of the egg and following the growth of the chick. Egg candling sessions allow me the opportunity to see how much the kids have learned and there is no shortage of enthusiasm when the chicks hatch. While Covid-19 did inhibit Ag Adventures for 2020, it did not stop Embryology. All incubators and supporting equipment along with the eggs were delivered to the schools. Lesson videos were created and other supporting materials were all placed on a closed Google site for the teachers to utilize.
Embryology Google Site
4-H University Cheese Making
As an Agent, one experience that never gets old is to ask a group of 4-H youth if they think they can transform a gallon of milk, using a few additional ingredients and a recipe, into mozzarella cheese. I absolutely love watching the skeptics successfully participate in the workshop and create their mozzarella cheese. In the process, these youth learn about food safety, kitchen safety, recipe literacy and adherence. The ‘learn by doing’ motto drives this experience.
Prior to adding 4-H to my Extension Agent assignment, I still incorporated youth into my Jackson County Family & Consumer Sciences programming, specifically culinary arts. Cooking is a life skill, we all eat! What better way to introduce food safety, kitchen safety, nutrition, and a variety of food preparation methods to youth than through culinary arts. Once I transitioned into a 4-H role, I added cheese making, grilling, food challenge, food preservation and more. Kids are more likely to try a new food, or an old favorite prepared in a healthier manner, if they make it themselves.
Carlos Staley, UF Intern
The above programs have shown great success, but 4-H offers a broad range of programs and there is something for everyone. My reward is each child’s success. It is even more gratifying when a former high school student that participated in the culinary arts school enrichment program for two years is now attending UF studying food science. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is when he becomes your UF summer intern!
I am a Mississippi State University graduate with a BS in Exercise Science and a MS in Health Promotion. After a long stint in the medical field, I transitioned to my second career choosing Extension. I began working with Texas A & M AgriLife Extension prior to transitioning to the University of Florida IFAS Extension in 2015. Extension is extremely rewarding, but in my down time I enjoy kayaking, gardening, and reading.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When 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!