Open hearts and helping hands

By Sally McClaskey, Program Manager, Education & Marketing, Ohio 4-H Youth Development

For many 4-H’ers, showing the animals they’ve raised is a summer tradition. It’s the culmination of long hours of feeding, grooming and practicing, then taking the spotlight in the showring. And thanks to caring 4-H’ers in several counties, special needs youth also have the opportunity be in that spotlight.

The Open Hearts Livestock Show premiered last month at the Marion County Fair for youth with developmental disabilities. Five individuals, paired with a 4-H mentor, took to the ring, displaying their showmanship skills with pigs, rabbits and goats. 

Planning the Open Hearts show began two years ago when 4-H member Kyla Stockdale was inspired after she developed a special bond with a 4-H camper when she served as a counselor. It sparked her interest in pursuing a career working with special needs youth. When Kyla reached out to her 4-H educator, Margo Long, the Extension Educator in Marion County, Long encouraged her to visit the Holmes County Fair.

In Holmes County, 4-H member Kylie Martinez had a similar passion to serve individuals with developmental disabilities when she started the Be You Livestock Show in 2019. The idea came after her participation in an FFA leadership conference where she had to develop a plan to positively impact her community. And for Kylie it was personal. 

“I have a younger brother who has developmental disabilities, and he doesn’t always get to do the same things other kids get to do,” Kylie said. 

The Be You Show had nine youth that first year and this year, it will include 15 participants.

Planning the shows involved long hours and many details. For Kyla, after getting approval from her senior fair board, she worked with the Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities. She also enlisted the help of eleven other 4-H members to serve as mentors. In Holmes County, Kylie is hosting seven rehearsals with the youth and volunteers to ensure they are ready to shine.

The result of the Open Hearts show is evident in the photos. 

“The participants had a blast! Each picture doesn’t show anyone without a smile and when we asked if they want to do it again, they all said ‘Yes!’” Kyla said.

The Bee You Livestock Show is set for Saturday, Aug. 14 during the Holmes County Fair and the Scioto County Special Needs Livestock Show, “A Day in the Ring” happens during their fair on Thursday, Aug. 12 at noon.

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