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iLead participants learn how to properly show goats from their Show Buddies. (Amanda Radke/Special to Agweek)

iLead teaches ag to students with disabilities

It's county fair and state fair season and 4-H members are putting the finishing touches on their projects for these annual summer events.

On July 17, 2018, South Dakota 4-H members from Davison and Hanson Counties took a break from working in the barn to help others learn more about agriculture through an event called iLead, held at the Davison County 4-H grounds in Mitchell, S.D.

In its third year, the iLead event pairs 4-H members (also called "Show Buddies") alongside students with disabilities for a fun and educational livestock show.

"Our overall goal for this event is to provide a fun opportunity for special needs kids in our area," said Anneliese O. Klinzmann, Davison and Hanson Counties 4-H youth program advisor. "It's not every day that they can experience working with smaller livestock. This event also provides the opportunity for the 4-H youth to share with the public what their projects are all about."

Seven special needs kids ranging in age from 14 to 23 participated in this year's iLead, and more than 20 4-H members served as Show Buddies, as well as serving food, handing out ribbons and setting up for the event.

"In addition to the livestock show, the kids learned about agriculture from speakers, enjoyed a meal as a group, watched 4-H members demonstrate proper showmanship of each type of livestock and even saw homing pigeons be released," Klinzmann said. "Our booths were hosted by individual 4-H members and area producers and covered many topics including beef, chickens, dairy, pigeons and rabbits. We also had a Special Olympics event and a Commodity Carnival."

While the event is designed to teach kids with special needs about agriculture as well as instilling confidence as they try something new, iLead also provides an outlet for 4-H teens to practice the skills they've learned through the program.

Lane and Clay Jorgensen are members of the Dakota Kids 4-H club in Davison County and have served the past three years as Show Buddies and committee members for iLead.

Last year, I worked with one of the participants who was very uncomfortable with the animals and being around all of the people at the event," said Lane, a 10-year 4-H member from Mount Vernon, S.D. and a freshman at Mitchell Technical Institute. "This year, I was able to observe this same kid, and I could tell he was more confident with the animals as well as his Show Buddy. There is a lot of growth potential through this event, and I'm proud to be part of it."

Clay says he enjoys teaching the kids to lead a lamb around the ring or drive a hog properly in order to give the judge a good view of the animal.

"I'm honored to be part of this event to teach the participants about the agricultural industry," said Clay, an eight-year 4-H member and a junior at Mitchell High School. "It's fun to teach the kids how to work with their animals and to help them in the ring as the judge asks them questions during showmanship."

And it's not just working with a goat, lamb or pig that makes iLead such a special event; it's the opportunity to bond with peers and experience something brand new that makes iLead a continued success for 4-H members and students with disabilities alike.