A return far greater than the input
At the heart of 4-H members young and old is a spirit of service and leadership. Livestock exhibitors across the country raise and compete with animals of all species, but not all youth have access to the same opportunities.
Special edition exhibitions are occurring more frequently across the country, giving special needs youth a chance to interact with animals, spend a day at the county show, and sometimes even take an animal for a lap around the ring.
Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassadors are to thank for a few of those shows. Ashley Wilde, past Ambassador from Tom Green County, and Nathan Barrett, current Ambassador from Leon County, both started special needs shows in their areas.
Wilde created the Special Edition Exhibition in San Angelo, TX, where participants are paired with a buddy, which is an older 4-H or FFA member, and get the chance to “show” an animal in an interactive atmosphere alongside their classmates. They also have a rodeo portion of the day where participants pet horses and get the chance to just be a kid. The event has been such a success that the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo now hosts the show each year.
“I started the special edition show because I had a personal connection to it through my best friend’s little brother,” Wilde said. “But I also wanted special needs kids to be involved with livestock, to get to interact with other kids their age, and to just have the opportunity to learn about agriculture.”
Barrett helped host the first Special Edition Tours at the Leon County Youth Livestock Show this year. The event was a success with 42 participants and an abundance of volunteers. Here, the participants moved through stations ranging from petting a rabbit, to taking pictures with cattle, and even making a “bird feeder” to take home with them.
“I wanted to start it [Special Edition Tours] because we have Ag Fair in the fall for 4th graders to interact with our animals, but special needs kids never get to come,” Barrett said. “I wanted them to come out and interact with the animals, and it was also a chance for them to leave school because they rarely get to do that, and a chance for them to experience what we do at a stock show.”
Both Wilde and Barrett said it just takes that first leap of faith to make a special edition opportunity happen. Here are a few tips on how to get started:
Q: What was Step 1 in initiating the special edition opportunity?
B: I went to our county show board and presented my ideas and the initial planning of the event to get it approved by them first. Then I got the contact information for the schools and began reaching out to them. Then I got the information out, and found sponsors.
Q: Was it easy to raise the funds for the event? How did you go about that?
W: It is so easy to find funding for this kind of thing. I looked up local businesses that had an interest in agriculture and youth and presented them my prepared plan. They key is to be prepared when talking to businesses.
Q: Was there paperwork required to host the event?
W: We used the liability forms our County Extension Agent already had on file for other events and had the parents sign off on it. Our only other forms were basic entry forms.
B: We emailed the teachers about t-shirt and food orders, specific needs of the kids to make sure we had things set up for them, and food allergies.
Q: What’s your advice for working with the schools?
W: Start with the Superintendent or Principal, depending on the school. When you’re presenting the idea, focus on the kids’ benefits from the program. Ask the teachers for what time frames they think would work for rotations. Emphasize the background of the event in that this is not a new idea, it’s been done many times before and the idea has just expanded.
Q: Were the schools excited and willing to be involved with the event?
B: The schools were so excited for the opportunity to get the kids out and interact with the animals. We also sent out a survey for the teachers to tell us what they thought of the program and what improvements we can make next year.
Q: Where did you get the animals for the event?
W: When our program was smaller, the buddies provided their animals. Once it expanded, San Angelo Stock Show provided animals. The key is to get as many as possible so that there’s enough for participants.
B: People in the community allowed us to use their animals. Other youth brought animals for the day of the event; locals brought up horses, rabbits, chickens, etc.
*Additional note: the animals should be docile and easy for the youth to handle.*
Q: What’s something you didn’t think of in the initial planning but learned in the first year of your event?
B: Be aware that the kids’ attention spans vary. We had 10 minutes set for every station in their rotations and learned they didn’t all stay at stations for the same amount of time. Next year, we’ll add more stations for them to go to and interact with different animals. We’ll also have more ‘make and take’ stations so they can have more to take home with them.
Q: What advice would you give someone interested in starting a special edition show in his or her area?
W: The show is easy to maintain after the initial start year. Form a committee of 4-H and FFA members and delegate tasks rather than trying to run it by yourself. Start small and work your way up in numbers. Use your agents as much as you can. Get the information out as early as possible to teachers and volunteers. It’s also useful to train your volunteers on exactly what they’ll encounter that day. In the end, don’t be afraid; take the risk. The return is far greater than the input.