MACON COUNTY, Ill. (WAND) - A Macon County youth service and leadership group is the first youth group to win the Illinois Governor's Cup. 

Young Leaders in Action (YLIA) accepted the award from Gov. JB Pritzker in a virtual ceremony held Tuesday. This award is the top honor given in a field of 24 community projects in the state. These projects were recognized with 2021 Governor's Hometown Awards earlier in 2021. 

This awards program is all about honoring groups whose projects helped quality of life in their communities. 

YLIA was named one of four Governor's Cup finalists in late March. There were virtual judging finals on April 12. 

“This award honors our entire community,” says Natalie Beck, CEO of The Community Foundation of Macon County. “YLIA participants continually put forth efforts throughout this past year to make our community, and world, a better place. YLIA leaders inspire others to dream more, learn more and do more.”

YLIA is an initiative of The Community Foundation of Macon County and Rotary Club No. 180 of Decatur. A press release said the organization looks to bring positive change in the county through service projects. 

Its members include over 100 sophomore, junior and senior high school students from each of the 11 Macon County high schools, along with homeschooled students. 

Officials said YLIA has been strongly involved in responding to growing community needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic since June of 2020. They led and hosted 16 socially-distanced Be the Change service projects from June to December. Members contributed over 1,100 total volunteer hours to impactful events in the community, including distributing food boxes to 1,300 local families in June, August and October. 

“This is an epic moment for youth empowerment engagement for all Macon county high school’s young leaders in action," said Dr. Jarmese Sherrod, who has over 20 years of experience in teaching, mentoring and empowering young people. "We selflessly served and put the needs of our community first. And today we were celebrated for that accomplishment. It shows that if we put faith and trust in the hands of our future leaders, that the outcome will be limitless."

A congratulatory statement also came Tuesday from State Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur): 

“Congratulations to Macon County’s Young Leaders in Action (YLIA) for earning the 2021 Governor’s Cup. This prestigious award is the top honor given among a field of 24 Illinois community projects. The 1,100 volunteer hours from over 100 students from Macon County high schools and homeschooled students made a positive impact when our community needed it most. Thank you to the students of YLIA and Dr. Sherrod for your commitment to volunteerism, which resulted in improving the lives of individuals and families living in the county.”

Other finalists for the Governor's Cup award included The Hop Center of Albion and the villages of Barrington and Flossmoor. 

Macon County last won the Governor's Hometown Award for the WSOY Community Food Drive in 2017. Decatur was named a top honoree for the Decatur Advantage campaign in 1985.