Peer to peer mentoring showcased during iLead 2016

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Farm Forum

Mary Fouss-Dickson’s12-year-old daughter, Christina has Down syndrome. Since birth, Fouss-Dickson has worked to ensure Chrissy has the same opportunities as her peers.

“All the time I hear that Chrissy can’t do or can’t make it. But she has feelings too. I encourage people not to limit down syndrome kids,” she explains.

During the recent iLead program, Fouss-Dickson was not let down.

Hosted by SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Programming, Chrissy was among 11 other youth with disabilities who worked with a pair of peers, show buddies, to learn how to show a sheep, pig or goat and then participate in a livestock show.

“It was awesome. This event gave kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities a chance to do something everyone else gets to do. It made me feel good,” Fouss-Dickson said of the event held in Mitchell.

“iLead is dedicated to the vision that agriculture is for everyone and all should have the opportunity to learn, grow and advocate for the industry,” says Amber Erickson, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor – Davison and Hanson Counties.

Erickson, together with Audra Scheel, SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor – Sanborn, Aurora & Jerauld/Buffalo Counties and 40 youth and adult volunteers launched the event in mid-July.

“I sure hope this experience will lead youth to join 4-H and that it opened the eyes, not only of the parents, but of community members that 4-H is for everyone,” Erickson explained.

Inspired by a similar event held in Texas, Erickson and Scheel set to work partnering with area 4-H and FFA members and volunteers. The idea was to provide youth with disabilities an opportunity to experience a livestock show and be taught by their peers. Each youth with disabilities was paired with experienced 4-H or FFA members with prior livestock showing experience.

“iLead is really about allowing all youth opportunity to further develop their life skills through experiential learning. As show buddies, the 4-H and FFA members were put in leadership roles, allowing them to practice their leadership skills and build a mentorship connection with the participants,” Erickson explains. “I was impressed by how responsible the show buddies were – not only providing a positive environment where all participants could have fun and learn, but making sure that participants were safe.”

Tessa Zens, 16, would agree. A junior at Hanson High School, Zens has been involved in 4-H since the fourth grade. She says that although she was a bit nervous to be a show buddy before the event, the minute she met Chrissy, she knew things would go well.

“Chrissy was really nice and so was her family. I wanted her to be able to experience what I have gotten to experience through my 4-H experience,” Zens explains. “It felt really good to be part of something that treats everyone the same.”

Through 4-H, Zens has gained many life skills – sewing, painting, showing livestock – but what she feels will serve her best into the future is the confidence she has gained as well as the ability to speak in front of groups. This summer she was the MC for the Hanson County Fashion Review.

With college looming in her near future, Zens says that her 4-H experience has also given her some ideas about her future career. “I want to do something that helps people. In 4-H we do a lot of volunteering and helping people – just like this iLead day.”

This won’t be Chrissy’s last 4-H experience if Fouss-Dickson can help it. In Chrissy’s words, “It was awesome. I got to show a goat and I loved it.”

To learn more about this and other 4-H programs, contact your local SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor or by visiting iGrow.org.