Special members enjoy ‘best day ever’ at Eastern Michigan State Fair

IMLAY CITY, MI -- A sense of pride and accomplishment filled the barn when 4-H youth leaders and special needs children from four counties in the Thumb region teamed up for a special livestock show Friday, July 29, at the Eastern Michigan State Fair in Imlay City.

The “4-H Challenged Me” program, launched just one month ago, is a peer-to-peer group in which 4-H coaches teach mildly to severely disabled children from Lapeer, Macomb, Tuscola and Sanilac counties how to handle, train and care for sheep, goats and pigs. Sixteen special members, ranging in age from 5 to 26, and 19 coaches, ages 9 to 19, had their first showing at the fair.

“I can’t even begin to describe the generosity and helpfulness that took place,” said Tiffany Howell, Lapeer County Farm Bureau vice president and organizer of the “4-H Challenged Me” program. “There was a mixture of excitement, kindness and pride filling the barn. The stands were filled with supporters of the members as well as of the coaches. It was very special for them.

“There were 4-H kids that I had never, ever talked to before moving pigs to the arena for the members. These kids weren’t even asked to help, they just saw a job that needed to be done and they did it,” Howell added. “Often times, you get the same five people volunteering at all of your 4-H events. At this event, every single person wanted to help in some way. That was incredible. Some of the coaches friends’ even made signs to hold up for the members while they showed to cheer them on.”

The volunteer effort included Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski and his wife, Lisa, who served as guest judges for the show. MFB District 6 Director Travis Fahley helped make sure everything ran smoothly inside the ring for the children.

“Our judges, MFB President Carl Bednarski and State Rep. Gary Howell (R-Deerfield Township) did an amazing job talking to the kids and finding out about their animals. Director Fahley was a ring man for the entire show, assisting with penning the hogs and keeping the show moving.” Howell said.

One of the most heartwarming moments happened during the fair itself.

Jack Goodwin, who invited his friend, Amanda Bridgman, to participate in the “4-H Challenged Me’ show, had gone through several practice sessions without realizing his special member didn’t have any boots to wear for the livestock show. He noticed a tack and supply trailer set up at the fair and immediately spotted a pair of sparkly blue cowboy boots he knew she’d love.

Goodwin collected returnable cans from the camping area and purchased the boots. He presented them to Bridgman as a surprise on the day of the show, even helping her slip them on. Other coaches purchased T-shirts for their members to commemorate the experience.

“This is what 4-H is all about—helping others and being kind,” Howell said. “We rise by lifting others!”

Howell said the initial response to the program has been overwhelming. She told Farm News last month other counties in Michigan already have approached her about what it takes to set up a similar program in places elsewhere in the state.

She also is looking into adding more types of animals to attract more coaches to her program next year.

“At the end of the day, I had kids from rabbits, horses and beef coming up to me begging me to include their species next year,” she said after the Eastern Michigan State Fair, “because they so desperately want to be a coach and help out.

“It was the best day of fair ever!”

To learn more about the “4-H Challenged Me” program in Lapeer County, please visit the group’s Facebook page.

Thumb area kids participated in the ‘4-H Challenged Me” program.