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AMY KIRK: Community service -- ranch style

A common theme on farms and ranches is if you're going to do something, do it BIG. It could be anything from buying equipment, getting equipment stuck, making mistakes, having machinery breakdown or going into debt. My son, Myles, has taken such logic to a whole new level: helping a community of ranchers.

As part of his graduation requirements, all seniors are required to do a senior project, which involves pursuing something challenging, writing a research paper and giving a PowerPoint presentation. At Custer High School, senior projects also have to be community service-oriented. Myles' senior project idea was to organize a steak feed to benefit the Rancher Relief Fund.

I did not want to discourage him from carrying out his idea, but deep down I flinched, knowing he was clueless about how much work would be involved. Yet, I also knew he had the organization skills to handle it. I mainly just wasn't sure how badly I wanted to live in the same house with another stressed-out male once the project got intense or stressful.

At the beginning of the semester, the planning took off at a slow pace, but as the date drew near, his to-do list ballooned. Some days he had 20 things on to do, follow up on or figure out after school and on weekends. Even though it wasn't my project, I did plenty of sympathy worrying and stressing, as well as sympathy eating. As the semester wore on, he had more details to figure out, groundwork to do and challenges to overcome.

His biggest obstacles were figuring out a system for getting an estimate of how many people to feed, how to collect money for tickets and getting a fairly accurate number of RSVPs when it was time to order the food. No question or message or confirmation I communicated to him was received with joy. Being burdened with additional details to figure out all contributed to -- in my opinion -- his biggest challenge toward the end: being pleasant to be around at home. During the weeks before his event, his concerns were beginning to affect his status as being an enjoyable teenager to live with. Fortunately, I'm experienced in dealing with the effects of project crankiness.

The weeks prior to the event he was afraid he wasn't going to have a good turnout since a small number of people had RSVP'd. I reassured him that more people would RSVP the week of the event and as more calls and messages came in, more tickets got sold at the high school, and more RSVPs were made, he shifted to project planning panic.

The few days leading up to, and the day of the event, he took on his mother's Jekyll and Hyde behavior as a result of feeling stressed, worried and overwhelmed which produced growly responses toward family over simple questions, reminders and suggestions while being able to switch to his pleasant Mr. Rogers voice the moment someone called to RSVP.

In the end, 186 steak dinners were served and $3,594.58 was raised in ticket sales, walk-ins, extra donations and a raffle for the Rancher Relief Fund. I think the most important lesson our son learned here is what every farm/ranch woman knows: if you want people to show up, FEED THEM.