Have you ever wondered if what you’re doing is making a difference? Or leaving this world a better place? I know I have.
Friends, I want to introduce you all to a program in our 4-H community that IS making a difference. I was able to talk to Mikaela Conley, a “country” neighbor, family friend, 10 year 4-H member, an outstanding young woman who is definitely making a difference. She brought this program to the 4-H council in our county about 3 years ago. Mik was able to combine her passions for 4-H and youth with special needs. 4-H has always been a huge and instrumental part of her life and she wanted to share that with everyone. And so, the Kosciusko County 4-H Poss-Abilities Program began.
What is it?
The Kosciusko County 4-H Livestock Poss-Abilities program was started, basically to ensure that 4-H and showing livestock are possible for youth of all backgrounds and abilities. This program highlights the fact that 4-H is an accessible program, that has something to offer for everyone.
Who can Participate?
So youth (kindergarten- Grade 12) start out by turning in an application for the program. Everyone gets accepted, the application is really just to help us match them with the best possible mentor family. We try to match based on interest, what they want to show, and location- so they don’t have to drive far. They can choose from swine, cattle, sheep, goats, and llama/ alpacas. Although, we have only done sheep and goats so far. Then, they are required to do at least three farm visits with their mentor. During the farm visit they learn about 4-H, other 4-H opportunities, the animal, how to care for the animal, what it eats, its breed, etc.
Do they show their animal at the fair?
The participant then has an opportunity to show in the Poss-ABILITIES Showcase at fair. This is a non-competitive event where they show the animal in the ring with their mentor. A judge asks them questions about what they have learned, to showcase their knowledge on the subject and the project they have been working on with their mentor. Our judge for the first two years has been Mayor Joe Thallemer. Last year we had two youth, Skylar and Railly, show sheep and this year we also added a class of three younger youth, Hannah, Ian, and Ruby, who showed goats. The showcase is noncompetitive because they use their mentor’s animal. However, we can also offer assistance to help them lease or purchase an animal with a mentor family so they can show in the competitive show as well.
What has been one of the most inspiring things you have seen through this program? Skylar, one of the participants who started last year, chose to be in the showcase, the regular competitive show, and showmanship this year. Skylar’s story is particularly interesting because we had to figure out how she could show a lamb in her wheelchair. However, with the assistance of the Leininger family and Jesse O’Hara, the sheep superintendent, a stand was welded (and of course painted pink) so the lamb could be tied in it. Skylar just had to learn to drive her wheelchair in a way that was in sync with the lamb. This year a better stand was made and a new chair was actually donated specifically for her to show in.
How have you seen this program positively impact our community?
One thing that I really love about the outcome that we have had with the program so far is just the way that it has brought people together. Sometimes people can get caught up in the competition of 4-H and forget what it is really all about. I was amazed in how the sheep barn came together to help make it possible for Skylar and Railly to show. And, the relationships that the participants and their mentor families have formed is also amazing. One of the mentors told me that they have lifelong friends now. The pairings have worked out so well. Skylar and Jordyn Leininger are the same age, both have a love for animals, and they both actually enjoy doing pageants. Jordyn was the junior miss Kosciusko County this year and Skylar was the third runner up! Railly, the boy that also chose to show sheep, has formed great relationships with Ryan and Elizabeth Zorn, his mentors. This year one of the younger boys, Ian, was matched with the Carra family who have three sons. Anthony Carra is actually the robotics club leader so Ian got to learn about both goats and robotics!
What is one thing you want everyone to about the importance of this program in our community-and even for other counties looking to bring this to their local 4-H program?
This program all around is really just focused on the potential that all youth have and the idea that they can really do anything, some just might have to do it a little differently than others, and we are here with this program to offer our assistance in making that a smooth process.
Would you like to know more about this program or how to get this program started in your community? Visit their Facebook page and send a message!