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Bloomington woman honored for expanding diversity in 4-H

Linda White holding flower display
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Longtime McLean County 4-H leader Linda White has been inducted into the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame.
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A Bloomington woman has been honored for helping youth pursue leadership and career opportunities that weren't available to her when she was growing up.

Linda White never planned to work in agriculture, beyond tending to her grandparents' farm in Louisiana. White said she didn't hear much about 4-H when she was young and it wasn't easily accessible for people of color. Much later in life, she got connected with the 4-H program in McLean County and she said it changed her life.

“It teaches you broad spectrums on nutrition, growing your vegetables, and working with technology,” she said. “It's just a wonderful experience to see the youth and how they've grown in this day and age but back then, all I'm thinking about is what we could have been.”

4-H brings entrepreneurship and agriculture to the forefront to expose students to more career possibilities.

White volunteered as a 4-H leader for 11 years. She was recently inducted into the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame in part because of her efforts to expand diversity and inclusion in the program. White noticed there weren't many students of color in 4-H. She suspected many, like her, were never exposed to 4-H.

“I believe our youth see it as something unreachable. They're not around farming and they don't go out on the farm so they can see if they have an appreciation for it,” she said.

White said farming may also carry a certain stigma for people of color, given the history of sharecropping in the United States.

“When we were in the fields back in the days that wasn't about agriculturing for us as a people,” White reasoned. “So I think that sets a mindset that makes our kids not appreciate farming and what it can offer them.”

White said some students don't have transportation to participate in 4-H. Other students are involved in lots of activities and may feel like they don't have time for one more thing. White said parents can trust their children will be productive in 4-H because they don’t just sit and watch.

“Things are hands on and they have to do. You can't just sit and look at everybody else and look over their shoulder. We want you to put your hands on it. That way you can claim your project and learn by doing,” White said. “That's how we strive to really encourage the parents.

"We just say, 'Make sure you get your child there, and we will take care of the rest.'”

Becoming a member of 4-H lends access to a variety of opportunities. White said with its mentorship, students can take what they learn and apply it to their daily lives, especially for those who don't have access to a grocery store.

“This way we can teach them how to work with the master gardeners, knowing the fundamentals of how you set up a garden, and help with food deprivation,” she said.

As White leaves 4-H after more than 11 years, she hopes to see more youth get involved.

“We’ve got robotics and other types of activities that these kids can get involved in, and I want to encourage them to seek out all these different avenues because you never know where it will take you,” she said.

White worked full time for State Farm during her time in 4-H. Now retired, White said she doesn't plan to rest long because her work in the community is not done.

This year, 71 people were presented with Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame awards. Illinois 4-H programs reach nearly 120-thousand youth each year through 4-H clubs, camps, educational programs and workshops held throughout the state.

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