It's Showtime: 4-H Program Pairs Mentors with Buddies

By Ann Thelen

This summer, a new group of participants had the opportunity to step inside the ring and experience the thrills of showing livestock at the Buchanan County Fair.

For 4-H students who show livestock, county and state fairs are a special time. It's when hours and hours of dedication and hard work culminate in the rewarding experience of stepping into the show ring with their animals. As they beam with pride and accomplishment on show day, youth demonstrate skills that become a valuable foundation for life. The shows are exhilarating experiences create memories that last forever.

This summer, a new group of participants had the opportunity to step inside the ring and experience the thrills of showing livestock at a county fair. A new livestock show, "Goat Getters," was added to the 2021 Buchanan County Fair, opening the gates for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for several area residents.

Goat Getters is a brand new 4-H/FFA show for Buchanan County in partnership with Special Olympics Iowa. The program provides an opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities to be a part of showing livestock (meat goats) in a safe, non-competitive environment with guidance from 4-H and FFA members. Goat Getters is modeled after the Iowa Pork Producers’ popular Bacon Buddies™ program, which premiered at the 2019 Iowa State Fair and pairs Special Olympics athletes with 4-H and FFA swine exhibitors.

Bringing the Show Experience to Life

“It was exciting to be involved with the inaugural Goat Getters event,” says Crystal Blin, who helped judge the event along with her husband Jon. “The program is a way for both adults and children with disabilities to become more familiar with 4-H and livestock projects. It’s also a great opportunity for 4-H and FFA members to gain a better understanding of how people with special needs go about their day and work as a team.”

The program paired a mentor with a buddy to prepare for the show. Supporters also provided help with event photography, social media, awards and other activities leading up to and during show day.

“The goal was to teach the buddies about exhibiting animals while giving both participants a valuable leadership opportunity,” explains Roxanne Fuller, director of Buchanan County Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

To bring the program to the county’s fair, Fuller’s team pursued a grant from the Iowa 4-H Foundation and received approval from the County Extension Council. The buddies ranged in ages from youth to adults.

“The community stepped up to bring this program to our area, and the participants can't stop talking about how much they enjoyed the event,” she adds.

To prepare for the big day, mentors and buddies attended an orientation clinic to meet one another, interact with the goats, and familiarize themselves with the fairgrounds and environment. They worked together to prep, groom and show the goats.

The judges also attended the orientation clinic and spent time with each of the participants. They engaged with the mentors and buddies and watched the teams learn about each other, their families, and fun facts like their favorite foods and parts of the Buchanan County Fair.

Although the event was non-competitive, a judge was in the ring during each show to make the experience as close as possible to what would take place in a competitive environment.

“As informal judges, we wanted to see excellent teamwork between the mentor and the buddy,” Crystal explains. “We asked some questions of the buddy, such as if they knew their goat’s name, what they ate and any quirky details about their goats. The buddies had the opportunity to parade their goats around the ring, and then one at a time, to show the animals off. It was so heartwarming to see everyone's pride and enthusiasm for the event.”

4-H Develops Lifelong Leadership Skills

The Blins are no strangers to life on the farm and the work that goes into raising and showing livestock. They operate a purebred Hereford operation near Independence and grow soybeans and corn.

“My husband and I are very passionate about giving back to youth in agriculture. Goat Getters is a way we can reach other youth in our community as well as some truly amazing adults,” Crystal explains. “In the past year, there’s been a lot more talk about empathy and trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes. This program is an incredible example of putting this practice into action."

The event demonstrated the many ways people can be involved with 4-H, regardless of background or farm-life experience.

“I grew up in the 4-H program. At the time, it very much was about livestock projects with the secondary benefits of public speaking, leadership and travel,” Crystal adds. “I think 4-H has really evolved into no longer just being all about agriculture projects. There is a huge opportunity for kids in urban or rural areas to become involved in 4-H through projects like photography, cooking or STEM activities. It’s genuinely a fantastic leadership opportunity for people across our entire state."

Editor's Note: Roxanne Fuller extends a special thanks to the following individuals for making the inaugural Goat Getters event a success: Staff Member Joclyn Bushman, who assembled a committee that flawlessly executed the event plan; Angie Dougherty, 4-H youth program specialist; Alexa Riniker, Buchanan County summer assistant; and B&D Services of Independence, which assisted in recruiting buddies.