January 28, 2021

Illinois 4-H youth development educators receive national awards

URBANA, Ill. – Two University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development educators were recognized by the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals for their dedicated and creative work in Illinois 4-H. Sara Marten, Hillsboro, and Sandra Prez, Grayslake, received the Achievement in Service Award during the association’s virtual national conference.

Sara Marten

Marten currently serves youth in the central Illinois counties of Christian, Jersey, Macoupin, and Montgomery.

Marten implemented the 4-H Pollinator Habitat and the 4-H Honeybee Challenge programs, both through National 4-H Council, where she recruited teen teachers and volunteers to help teach youth the importance of providing safe habitats for pollinators. She helped youth develop more than 5,000 square feet of native pollinator plants and grasses at the Bremer Wildlife Sanctuary.

She brought the nationally-acclaimed 4-H Health Jam program to southern Illinois. The program encourages healthy choices and the study of health careers by involving local health professional in a 9-week intensive program.

Marten also introduced area school districts to the Welcome to the Real World program where middle and high school youth investigate careers, then participate in a simulation of paying bills, buying cars, finding housing, and purchasing groceries as an introduction of the decisions they’ll need to make as adults.

Sandra Prez

Prez has brought hundreds of new youth in the urban regions of northeast Illinois to 4-H. As a bilingual Spanish speaker, she is breaking through the language barrier to open new opportunities to youth and their families.

Prez serves youth in Lake and McHenry counties. She initiated the national 4-H Tech Wizards program in Round Lake. The program offers after-school mentoring to middle school youth. Using science, technology, engineering and math as the program content, Prez creates a welcoming environment where students want to learn. Adults provide mentoring, while teens, trained by Prez, provide the technology lessons. Prez was the first to include teens in the delivery in Illinois.

In 2016, Prez initiated a bilingual Parenting Success program which introduced 4-H to new audiences in Waukegan. She presented both Spanish and English portions of the lessons concurrently so that both sets of learners were receiving the information at the same time. The program has expanded to eight schools in the city.

Prez was also the early adopter of Juntos, a college readiness program which helps youth and families receive career and academic counseling. The program includes summer college visits and meets as 4-H clubs.

Prez is one of 16 Illinois Extension staff trained as a facilitator for Navigating Difference, a cultural competency program, which reaches over 600 Illinois Extension staff members.