IlliniThon News Story – Part 3 (Peyton’s Story)

Our third major assignment in my journalism class was to write a profile. I had the privilege of profiling the family of miracle child, Peyton Skrysak. Their story is one of heartbreak mixed with joy and hope.

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“Peyton has a really amazing story,” said IlliniThon’s family relations director, Lauren Adrian. “She was – she is a triplet. Her family likes to say she is a triplet because she is.”

Peyton Skrysak and her parents, Ryan and Stacey, are one of the many families that have been helped by St. John’s Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network and IlliniThon. IlliniThon is an annual Children’s Miracle Network event that raises money for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill.

In 2013, Stacey Skrysak, became pregnant with triplets. The Skrysaks knew her pregnancy was high risk but they never imagined what was coming.

“You never know what curveballs life’s going to throw at you,” said Ryan.

As a news anchor first for News Channel 17 and now for News Channel 20, Stacey’s pregnancy and time on bed rest were very public, and she has allowed viewers to keep up with Peyton’s life.

On June 23, 2013, only 22 weeks and six days into Stacey’s pregnancy, her triplets were born. Babies aren’t usually considered viable until 23 weeks, but doctors decided to give her children a chance.

Abigail was born first and only survived for about two hours because her oxygen levels never stabilized. She was Peyton’s identical twin and the Skrysaks love to imagine them together and think about all the trouble they would be getting into.

Stacey explained that Abby was having the most complications and it was amazing that she hung on for as long as she did. That extra time gave her siblings a chance to live.

“Abby was a big fighter, even though she didn’t survive,” Stacey said. “We’re very grateful to her because she really saved our other children’s lives.”

Seventeen hours later, Parker and Peyton were born and immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Stacey was also rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU), because she had an infection and her body went into septic shock after giving birth.

“I had to deal with thoughts that I hate to go back to,” said Ryan. “I had two children in the NICU and my wife was very sick in the ICU.”

As soon as Stacey’s television viewers learned about Abby’s death and Parker and Peyton’s stay in the NICU, Stacey received hundreds of emails. Gifts were sent to the NICU for Parker and Peyton from people the Skrysaks had never met.

“I realize that I had a whole community really around the world supporting me. That’s what’s helped me the most, and two years later, that’s still what helps,” said Stacey.

While in the NICU, Parker was the one that all of the nurses wanted to take care of.

“He was just a sweet little boy. He was a little blondie and just precious,” recalls his mother.

However, like many premature babies, Parker had many other health issues. He had endured one surgery and was slowly becoming paralyzed. Parker died when he was 55 days old.

“People are always like ‘I’m so sorry for your losses,’” said Stacey. “I look at it as: I got two precious months and I have these pictures that are just gorgeous of him. He already showed his personality in those first two months.”

Peyton, now two and a half years old, was in the NICU for four months. She had surgery on her eyes, heart problems and a few other issues. Peyton’s nurses nicknamed her the princess or diva of the NICU because she could really be a pain to take care of.

“She’s got this personality,” explained Stacey with a smile. “She’s got all three of the kids in her and that’s what I love. We always say we’ve got her brother and sister living in there because no one has this much personality.”

Peyton has a few developmental delays in her speech and the strength of her muscles because she was a preemie. She works with many therapists and they have helped her catch up with other kids her age.

According to her mother, Peyton really thinks she’s “one of the big kids” when she spends time with the college students involved with IlliniThon. The family attended IlliniThon for the first time last April and also visited campus to share their story at Illinois Sights and Sounds, the freshman welcome event, in August.

“When we got up on stage and shared our story, Peyton was walking around across the stage clapping for herself and telling people hello and just dancing with the kids,” said Stacey as she described their first IlliniThon experience.

The scene was similar when the family visited for Sights and Sounds.

“She was just running around the football field and everyone was just obsessed with her because she loves to dance,” said Adrian.

IMG_2616-e1442551337413“The best thing [IlliniThon has] helped with is seeing our daughter blossom and bloom,” said Ryan. “What they do for the kids and how they support the children is very uplifting for me. It’s nice to see the college kids support people and try to help them in any way that they can.”

Stacey has made it her mission to use her family’s story, the memory of her children and her platform as a television anchor to help other families. Her boss has allowed her to raise awareness about issues like child loss and NICU families. She also shares the joys and struggles of raising her surviving triplet and remembering her two angels on her blog, Perfectly Peyton.

“After [Abby and Parker] passed away, I said ‘there’s got to be some good that comes out of this,’” said Stacey. “It made me realize that I can use myself for the better. My children have made me stronger than I ever thought imaginable.”

The Children’s Miracle Network and IlliniThon love having Stacey on board.

“Stacey’s always very open about sharing their story, especially because it’s definitely a hard one to tell,” said Adrian. “That’s been a blessing for us at IlliniThon, to have someone who’s so open about such a powerful story because it only helps people understand why you should do it.”

The members of IlliniThon’s executive team work hard all year to raise money and get ready for the event.

“Being able to see [Peyton] and play with her and pick her up and see that her hair is getting longer, you really get to see that this is the reason why I’m doing this,” said Caroline Eichelberger, a member of IlliniThon’s executive board.

All the members of IlliniThon’s executive board love the kids. For many of them, the best part of being involved in the organization is getting to know the families and their stories.

“I always tell [Peyton’s] story,” said IlliniThon’s fundraising director, Courtney Wright. “First of all, she’s adorable, but she is actually the youngest baby ever to survive at St. John’s Children’s Hospital.”

“She’s pretty much the epitome of what a Children’s Miracle Network child is because she really is a miracle,” said Stacey. “There is no reason why she should be alive today.”


To join me in supporting IlliniThon and kids like Peyton, make a donation.

Read my first IlliniThon News Story about the event or my second story about Trick or Treat For the Kids!


IlliniThon News Story – Part 2 (Trick or Treat For the Kids)

My second news story previewed one of IlliniThon’s big, new fundraisers, “Trick or Treat For the Kids.” It also highlighted the involvement of Centennial High School students in supporting Children’s Miracle Network.

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As the leaves change and the air gets colder, the thoughts of children turn to costumes and candy. For many kids, the highlight of the month of October is collecting candy on Halloween.

A group of high school and college students have a different idea. On October 31, members of IlliniThon and Centennial High School Dance Marathon’s executive boards will be Trick-or-Treating For the Kids in Champaign. Instead of candy, they will be asking for money to support IlliniThon and the Children’s Miracle Network.

“This is the only time it’s actually legal to solicit people door-to-door for things,” said IlliniThon’s internal fundraising director, Caroline Eichelberger.

Eichelberger and IlliniThon’s external fundraising director, Courtney Wright are planning the event.

Wright explained that one of IlliniThon’s public relations directors came up with the idea and the organization’s president brought the idea to her.

“I took it over from there and it’s really been a lot of fun,” said Wright. “This year being the first year doing it, I really have a lot of leeway as to what I can do.”

Wright explained that they are currently working on designing and logo and deciding how they are going to brand Trick-or-Treat For the Kids to the rest of the community. They are also contacting local television and radio stations to help spread the word. Being a communications major, Wright understands the importance of how messages are sent to the community.

“We want this to become an annual thing that is recognized in the community,” Wright said.

That is part of the reason they are partnering with Centennial High School in Champaign, to reach out to the community.

Centennial High School is unique because they have a Dance Marathon of their own, something that’s not very common in high schools. Their sponsor, Marian Wyatt, explained that one of Centennial’s students, Grace Khachaturian started the event at Centennial five years ago.

“Centennial is one of the first high schools to take up what these colleges are doing. In the last four years we’ve raised $50,518.67,” Wyatt told her classroom of students. “We’ve got money to raise and kids to help.”

Aashika Ashock, one of Centennial’s co-presidents, explained that the money raised by Centennial’s Dance Marathon goes to IlliniThon because they are the larger event.

Jenna DeLuce, the other co-president, explained that Centennial’s Dance Marathon is the Friday before IlliniThon, so the families can just stay for the weekend. She also said that they are beginning to build stronger ties with IlliniThon.

“We’re trying to support each other with the events we’re having and network in that way,” said DeLuce. “We really want to get the community more involved and let them know who we are.”

IlliniThon’s executive board, their committee members and Centennial’s executive board are planning to split up into teams of two on October 31. These teams of two will pair up into groups of four to drive to different areas of the community. Eichelberger and Wright are excited to have the high school students joining them.

“They all live in Champaign, they know the neighborhoods and that’s more people that can go out and reach more houses,” said Eichelberger.

While going door-to-door, the students will be telling the stories of miracle children from the child’s point of view and asking the community members to support the kids.

The IlliniThon fundraising directors are looking forward to sharing the kid’s stories.

“It’s inspiring to see an eight-year-old who’s been through all this stuff in their life and they’re still so energetic and so enthusiastic about everything,” said Wright.

The directors are also excited to see how the first year of Trick-or-Treat For the Kids goes.

“It has potential to be a really, really big fundraiser,” said Eichelberger.


To join me in supporting IlliniThon, make a donation!

Read my first IlliniThon News Story.

IlliniThon News Story – Part 1

Last semester, I had the opportunity to write four stories about IlliniThon, the people who organize it, and the people who are influenced by it. Interviewing these people and seeing their passion for the event and the children it helps was tons of fun and truly inspiring. In one month I will be participating in the event with my 4-H House sisters, so in the weeks leading up to it, I will be sharing the news stories I wrote. Enjoy!

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Worldwide, a child is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. A group of college students want to give some of those kids a little bit of hope.

IlliniThon is part of a nationwide initiative across college campuses to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. IlliniThon specifically is an annual event that raises money for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Ill. This year’s event will be on April 23, 2016, at the Illini Union. Participants will be on their feet, without sitting down, from 9:00 pm t0 9:00 am to show their support and raise money for the miracle families.

The event is organized and run by a group of about 27 students who are on the Executive Board. Serving under them are about 100 more committee members.

“The best part is being able to work so closely with friends,” said Caroline Eichelberger, the internal fundraising director. “And seeing that I’m not the only one who’s so passionate about it.”

Eichelberger is a junior studying pre-nursing. “My mom is a neonatal ICU nurse. I’ve grown up visiting her in the NICU and seeing the little babies that are literally the size of your hand,” said Eichelberger. “It’s unbelievable. That’s a really big reason why I changed my major to nursing and decided that this is what I need to be doing.”

As the internal fundraising director, Eichelberger’s job is to make sure every participant raises at least $250. She does this by organizing canning outside bars and football games, teaching people how to write fundraising letters, and helping them reach out to potential donors.

IlliniThon’s Executive Dancer Recruitment Director, Frankie Fridman, has her own reason for being passionate about the event.

“In high school I had a really bad stomach problem and I spent a lot of time at Lurie’s Children’s hospital in downtown Chicago, which is a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” explained Fridman, a sophomore studying choral music education. “What I went through is a fraction of what these kids have gone through. Seeing them be so optimistic and so happy is an inspiration to anyone who looks at them.”

Fridman’s responsibilities include getting dancers and teams signed up for the event. She also works to keep them engaged throughout the year. She helps them get more people signed up and encourages them to reach their fundraising goals.

“These kids are alive because we raise money for their chemo or other procedures,” Fridman said.

Fridman doesn’t have to recruit all the dancers on her own.

“Everyone on the board is in charge of recruiting because it’s all about who you know,” said Mike Golden, the Vice President of Dancer Recruitment.

Golden is a senior studying to be a doctor. He volunteers at Carle Hospital and is considering being a pediatric oncologist.

“Every kid should be able to grow up and that’s something that really hits home to me,” Golden said.

As the Vice President of Dancer Recruitment, Golden oversees a group of executive members, including Fridman, and makes sure they are staying on track. Golden found out about IlliniThon and got involved through one of his fraternity brothers. Golden also explained that the Greek community on campus is one of the places IlliniThon finds its biggest supporters.

“One of our big focuses this year to is reach out to people who aren’t in Greek life,” Fridman said as she explained how they are trying to get more of the campus involved. “My highlight is when we get a new team signed up because that means we have more people interested in helping these kids and wanting to make this event even bigger and better than it’s been before.”

That is the executive team’s goal, to make this year the best one yet. They are setting big goals for themselves and are working hard to reach them. They are planning ahead to give themselves and the participants more time to fundraise. The fundraising chairs are also planning events for this semester, including Trick-or-Treat For the Kids and restaurant fundraisers.

“A lot of what we’re doing right now is figuring out how we can get people motivated to fundraise,” said Fridman.

But the entire executive team is keeping their end goal in mind.

“Actually meeting the families and seeing these kids at the event, that’s the reason why I’m doing this, that’s why I’m here,” said Eichelberger.

Fridman agreed. “We need you at the event. You can raise the money and that’s great but the kids are going to be at the event and that’s what matters.”


If you want to join me in supporting IlliniThon, make a donation.

The Wonderful Women in Ag

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a Leadership Enhancement Skill Seminar hosted by the Illinois Agri-Women and sponsored by Syngenta. The event included lots of networking with other women in the agricultural industry and a seminar about how to advocate for agriculture to consumers.

Kelsey Vance

I also had the privilege of interviewing Kelsey Vance, a retail sales representative for Syngenta, who was representing the company at the event. She told me about her journey into the ag industry and gave some advice for young women looking to go into agriculture. This was our conversation:

Me: Tell me about yourself, your background and your career path.

Kelsey: I grew up in Tremont, Illinois, in Tazewell County on a corn, soybean and vegetable farm. From there I went to Illinois State University where I double-majored in agribusiness and agronomy management. I was very active in NAMA… Upon graduation from ISU I took a job with Syngenta as a sales representative and I moved to Nebraska. Seven months later, I accepted a new position in Southern Illinois; I couldn’t stay out of Illinois for too long. So I came back, and I have been there for three years, and it’s been great!

What do you do as a sales rep?

I am a retail sales representative, so I sell to the retailers and then they sell to the farmers. I sell crop protection, seed and seed care. I don’t go to an office. I don’t have an office. I basically work out of my truck and travel all around six counties. There’s not one day that I’ve ever had the same. Every day of my job is different, which I love. It gives me the opportunity to be out in the field, to be with growers, and to learn more about the industry. It’s always changing and [I get] to be on the front ‘up and new’ with the new technology, which I enjoy.

Why did you want to go into the ag industry?

I think [agriculture] is the only thing I have always known and loved my entire life. Growing up on the farm, I do not have any brothers, I have one younger sister, so my dad quickly realized that he was not going to have any sons, and he was going to have to teach us how to do everything. I started mowing the lawn at five; that was my first John Deere tractor. From there I just fell in love with it. Every opportunity I have to get home and be in the combine or be in the tractor, I definitely take advantage of that. I still keep all the books for the farm. I may be two and a half hours away, but I still know what’s going on a majority of the time. That is definitely where [wanting to go into ag] came from, the farm.

Tell me about being a woman in the ag industry. What is that like?

I think it’s a great time to be a woman in the ag industry. It’s exciting. There are more of us every day, which is very motivating. I think it’s going to continue to grow. There’s going to be more women in the industry, and I think we have a lot to bring to the industry. I’m very excited about it and seeing young people in the industry motivates me more.

What challenges do you find in being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

I do think that sometimes as women, we are wired a little bit differently. I do work with all men. I have one female on my team that I’m so blessed to be able to work with. Sometimes I think I take things a little more to heart than men would and that can be challenging. I think that they also respect that, and they understand that I have a bigger heart, and they appreciate that as well. It might be a challenge at times, but it’s also an opportunity.

Do you have any advice for people like me? (College or high school students)

Yes! I would definitely say to get involved and don’t spread yourself out across numerous organizations, but pick a few that you really have a strong interest in and engage yourself in those and see what you can do with your full potential. Networking is so amazing, you can meet so many people, and it’s actually a lot of fun too. That would be my advice.

How did you get selected to represent Syngenta at this event?

Well, as far as I know, I am one of two sales reps that are female in the entire state. There are not many of us, to be completely honest. I think it was basically through my involvement with Illinois Agri-Women, so like I said earlier, being connected and networking and getting into these organizations. I was able to meet Penny [Lauritezen] and Diana [Ropp], (women that helped organize the event)… They had been to the Syngenta Leadership Training before in North Carolina. When they met me and had a Syngenta rep to work with, then they wanted to bring this to central Illinois. It all comes back to networking.


Ultimately, I met a lot of wonderful women at the leadership seminar yesterday. Kelsey is just one example of the many wonderful women that high school and college women wanting to work in agriculture can look up to.


Goodbye, Subway

It’s a sad week. Goodbye, 6-inch black forest ham on Monterey cheddar toasted with American cheese, lettuce, spinach, a little Ranch, a little mayo, and Parmesan cheese. That was my go-to order at Subway, a restaurant that I will sadly no longer be supporting with my money.


If you haven’t heard, on October 20, Subway announced, “that it has elevated its current antibiotic-free policy.” They went on to explain that they are transitioning to serving only protein from animals that have never received antibiotics.

There are a few things that bother me about this.

  1. All meat we consume is antibiotic free because animals that have been treated for an illness have to go through a withdrawal period before they can be taken to market.
  2. I wish Subway had talked to farmers to understand this before making their announcement.
  3. After making their announcement, Subway was deleting comments from farmers that were trying to explain #1.
  4. I don’t think I want to eat the meat of animals that didn’t get treated when they were sick. As this blogger points out, it seems like the next best option is to just put the animal out of its misery if they can’t be treated, which certainly doesn’t seem very humane to me.

Speaking of treating animals humanely, in my ag communications class, we read an excerpt about animal equality written by Peter Singer.

It seems to me that if you want animal equality, animals should have access to antibiotic just like people do. And they shouldn’t have to lose their purpose in life because of that.

Singer opens his essay with this statement: “For most people in modern, urbanized societies, the principal form of contact with nonhuman animals is at meal times.”

As strange as it is to think about, this statement has a lot of truth to it. Besides the family dog, most of society doesn’t come into contact with animals on a daily basis. With less than 2% of the population active in agriculture, you can’t expect many people to be around animals, especially not livestock, except for when they are in the form of a chicken, bacon, ranch sub.

Singer believes in the principle of equal consideration of moral interests and defines it as a moral principle stating that you should weigh the comparable moral interests of all creatures who will be affected by your actions. He says, “if an animal feels pain, the pain matters as much as it does when a human feels pain – if the pains hurt just as much. How bad pain and suffering are, does not depend on the species of being that experiences it.”


Well if this is true, it seems to me that sick animals should have access to antibiotics just like people do. And they shouldn’t have to lose their purpose in life (in this case being raised for human consumption) because of that.

In his essay, Singer talks about how inhumanely animals are treated when being raised for consumption on a “factory farm.” He doesn’t seem to realize that 97% of farms are family owned. He doesn’t seem to understand that farmers don’t want to treat their animals inhumanely because happy, healthy animals will be more productive and valuable anyway.

I wish that Singer and Subway would both visit a farm. I wish they would talk to farmers and ask the experts why they do what they do. Farm visits can lead to comments like this one from one of Illinois Farm Families’ City Moms, Amy Hansmann. “I learned that treating an animal humanely doesn’t mean treating it like a human.”


Photo Credit: Erin Ehnle Brown

I will still enjoy my chicken, bacon, Ranch and black forest ham sandwiches, just not from Subway.

9 Things I Learned From My Summer Job

This summer, I had the opportunity to go back to my childhood, from a different perspective. I worked with the University of Illinois Extension Unit in my home county and two neighboring counties. Throughout the summer, I learned many things about Extension and about myself.

  1. I’m not a fan of long commutes

While working with Extension, I traveled throughout the 3 counties I was covering. Since I live on the outside edge of one of those counties, I drove A LOT.  I definitely learned that I don’t want a job with a long commute, or if I’m ever in that kind of position again, I need to find a good way to entertain myself during the drive.

On the bright side, I now know a 40 mile stretch of roads that I haven’t traveled much before like the back of my hand! I also had fun exploring the countryside and rural roads around me that I wouldn’t otherwise drive on.

  1. I like lists


For most of the summer, I taught 2-hour day camps based off of 4-H curriculums. My co-workers and I spent the first two weeks on the job learning the curricula and gathering supplies. This required lists upon lists upon lists. We had lists for each day and each curriculum. We then compiled these lists and had lists of supplies we found in our storage spaces and lists of items we had to buy. The list of our lists could go on and on.

As annoying as it can be, I learned how important it was for us to be organized and have a plan at the beginning to help the rest of our summer run more smoothly.

  1. I can fit a lot of stuff in my trunk


    Building with spaghetti noodles and marshmallows!

This summer, I drove my 2009 Chevy Impala a lot (refer to #1). Most of the time I was driving it, the truck was filled to the brim. Because I was working in so many different locations, I kept most of my supplies with me. The primary curriculum that I taught was called “Boulders, Bugs, and Beyond.” I got to teach kids about everything from volcanoes to butterflies to fossils and everything in between. That being said, I had birdseed, play dough, hula-hoops, graham cracker, bags of dirt and lots of other seemingly random items in my trunk.

  1. I shouldn’t be scared of kids in 3-6th grade

As I mentioned, the summer was full of working with kiddos. I’ve done a lot of volunteering with kids and while I don’t know that I want to work with them forever, this summer was a great experience! I usually shy away from working with kids that are older than about 2nd grade because, honestly, they can get a bit too sassy for me after that! This job pushed me out of my comfort zone as the kids in the camps were in grades 3-6. It turns out that they were great and I really didn’t have too much to be worried about. Some of them were a bit of a challenge, but kids will be kids. Overall, they were great and it was fun to see them learning and retaining what we taught them week-to-week. Their curiosity and excitement made every day a new adventure.

Some of my favorite memories of the kids we taught include the ones that voluntarily helped us clean the room up after a messy craft and the ones that remembered me and gave me a hug when I saw them later in the summer. I also can’t forget the boy who started and brought in his new rock collection the week after we learned about rocks. Those moments made me feel like I was actually making an impact in someone else’s life.


My “Boulders, Bugs, and Beyond” class before their nature hike.

  1. It’s important to like the people you work with


    We made picking up pizzas fun!

I had a lot of fun this summer! While I can attribute a lot of that to the kiddos I worked with, my summer would not have been the same without my co-workers. I had the privilege of working with 3 other summer staff members throughout the season. From shopping for supplies and cleaning out the storage room to carpooling and teaching camps together, we always had each other laughing. For all the laughing we did, we also got a lot done. We brainstormed and problem-solved together as the summer presented different challenges.

I was also blessed to work for some really great bosses. The program coordinators and leadership in each county offered great guidance but let us take on projects and responsibilities. They also offered plenty of laughs of their own!

  1. People are more likely to donate if you ask

One of the summer staff responsibilities is to plan and run the Food Stand at the Whiteside County 4-H Show. This included getting all of the food, paper goods, and health certification for the Food Stand. As a non-profit organization, we wanted to get as many of the supplies as possible donated. After my co-workers and I decided what items would be available on our menu, I called many local businesses, grocery stores and restaurants asking for donations to the food stand. My boss was amazed by how many donations we received, and all we had to do was ask.

We also learned this lesson the day we were sent to the downtown area of town to sell tickets for the 4-H Pork Chop BBQ. This is an annual fundraiser that we have during the 4-H Show. My co-worker and I were able to sell more than 20 tickets in about 2 hours just by asking the employees at local businesses.

  1. Every fair is different

One of the highlights of the summer was attending county fairs and 4-H shows. Specifically, I attended and helped at Whiteside County’s 4-H Show and Lee County’s 4-H and Junior Show.

I grew up with the Whiteside County 4-H Show being one of the busiest and most fun weeks of my summer, so to have the opportunity to help facilitate that for other kids was an amazing experience. As I mentioned, one of my responsibilities as summer staff was running the food stand. My co-workers and I got there early, made sure the food was cooked, and oversaw the volunteers that worked in the food stand each shift. We also helped in other areas of the show by assisting judges, answering questions and filling in wherever we were needed.

Similarly, I helped with many of the same things in Lee County. However, I got to learn how their show is set up and organized in a completely different way. That was a bit of a challenge, but also a lot of fun!


I ran the Fashion Revue at the Whiteside County 4-H Show

8.  Rabbits, cats, and dogs, oh my!

Some of the most unique things I got to do during the 4-H Shows was helping run animal shows that I had never even watched before. I helped run a rabbit show, a cat show, and a dog show. Those were definitely skills I never thought I would gain. However, those activities did teach me valuable skills of being observant to notice how the different classes fit together. It also taught me to be confident even when I was being pushed out of my comfort zone. It definitely went with the 4-H slogan, “Learning by Doing.”

  1. I miss 4-H

Finally, my summer job helped me realize how important 4-H was in my childhood. 4-H was always something that was part of my life and specifically, a large part of my summer. Helping run the 4-H Show reminded me of everything I learned during the show when I was a 4-Her. I also remembered my 4-H days as my co-workers and I practiced and prepared the crafts that we did with the kids in some of the camps.

Now is a great time to be looking back on the impact 4-H has had on my life from my Cloverbud years to my summer job because it’s National 4-H Week!


Overall, I had a great summer full of learning experiences. I loved the opportunity I had to work on “making the best better” in the kids I was working with and in myself.

Food for Thought

This past weekend, my family went camping to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. Any time you get 12 people together, you are going to have to plan your meals carefully. Here are a few observations I made at the grocery store when shopping before our camping trip.

Healthy Hogwash

Camping trips mean s’mores, and s’mores mean graham crackers! Should I buy the regular honey or the low-fat honey? Let’s compare!

Regular Honey: 8g whole grain/31g serving, 130 calories, 160mg sodium

Low Fat Honey: 10g whole grain/35g serving, 140 calories, 170mg sodium

So my low fat honey gives me more whole grains, if I eat a larger serving, as well as more calories and more sodium. I’ll have my s’more on regular honey graham crackers!


Food vs. Food Product

Onions have never been my favorite food, but they are delicious when sautéed on the grill or cooked in a foil dinner. While Funyuns make a great snack to pack in a picnic lunch, they can hardly be called anything close to a real onion. In fact, Funyuns are primarily made of fried corn meal, not onions at all. If I’m going to end up with bad breath, I might as well eat the real onions that have nutritional value.
IMG_1819        IMG_1804

Simple vs. Complex

Potatoes are another wonderful food to cook on the grill with some tasty seasonings. The “simple” form of red potatoes is on the left. These potatoes don’t have any other ingredients added or special processing or packaging done to them. On the right, are microwave ready, fresh creamer potatoes from The Little Potato Company. These potatoes have “an exciting blend of leafed parsley, sweet garlic, and hand-picked herbs,” making them not quite so simple.

However, I suppose you could argue that the five-minute microwave potatoes are less complex when you are cooking them than the original potato.

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Local Source

IMG_1794This honey hails from Ava, Illinois, a short three-hour drive from Champaign. It will also taste great on toast for a quick, easy breakfast! Quick breakfasts are great when you want to get out on the trail when camping. My favorite local honey comes from Sasse’s Apiary.

Most Well-Travelled Food

IMG_1817No camping trip is complete without fresh fruit, and I love pineapple! Although, I’m not sure how fresh this pineapple could be since it came all the way from Costa Rica. This is true for many ‘fresh’ fruits. Whenever we buy food out of season or that cannot be grown locally, we are accepting the fact that this food probably wasn’t picked this morning and probably won’t taste quite as good as it would if we could pick it for ourselves.

Targeted at Tots

IMG_1837With three young nieces, no family get-together is complete without snacks! What kiddo wouldn’t want Minion-Grahams? The shapes and characters that end up in the form of fruit snacks, Campbell’s soup, and mac and cheese always entertain me. It also amazes me to see how well this marketing tactic works, as children really do seem to enjoy eating a Minion more than the traditional teddy bear.

Going organic, Going broke

My family prefers eating homemade applesauce, but if we had to buy enough applesauce to feed 12 people on a camping trip, we definitely wouldn’t buy organic. The organic applesauce pictured costs $2.95 for 23 ounces, while the County Market brand costs only $2.69 for twice the amount (46 ounces). The organic applesauce costs about $0.13/ounce; while the County Market brand costs about $0.06/ounce. I didn’t taste test these two, but I would be very surprised if the organic tasted that much better!

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Eating on a Budget

IMG_1813Every college student is very familiar with this orange and yellow package, as Top Ramen is a very cost-effective form of food. While these noodles may not be the healthiest option, it doesn’t take much to market them to poor college students, families with children that are living on a tight budget and people that need quick and easy meals in their busy schedules. However, these noodles are also great for adding flavor and crunch in a broccoli salad for our camping trip.

Food Your Great-Grandma Wouldn’t Recognize

IMG_1820Munchie foods are great for camping and we always have plenty of snacks, but I’ve never seen apple straws and I doubt my grandma has either. The mere concept of apples being in straw form is very strange to me. I feel like this is another way to market fruits and healthy foods to people that otherwise may not eat them. I can’t help but wonder how much of the nutrition found in apples are maintained in these straws…

I think I would rather buy real apples OR chex mix and chips instead of trying to combine the two.

Guilty Pleasure

IMG_1836Anyone who knows me knows I love Oreos, especially Double Stuf. They are my guilty pleasure, and I can’t go anywhere without having a stash safely tucked away close by. I also don’t think I am alone in this guilty pleasure, as studies have shown that these delicious cookies might be as addictive as cocaine.

If you love Oreos as much as I do, next time you go camping, split one apart and add your s’mores marshmallow to the already delicious filling in the middle!

Even though we didn’t have all these foods on our camping trip, it was still lots of fun, and we definitely didn’t go hungry! Next time you go to the grocery store, look around a little bit and think about all the signs and messages being pushed your way. You might be surprised, or even amused by what you find!