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First-ever iLead event includes youth with special needs

Fred, the Duroc pig, steadily wandered around the arena surrounded by a huddle of three children in green shirts. "Tap him right here," Quinton Berg said to Gunnar Yeo, a 12-year-old boy from Alexandria. And with a tap of the soft whip, Fred move...

Gunnar Yeo, right, shows a pig with the help of his showbuddies Lane Jorgensen, back, and Quinton Berg, left, during the iLead event on July 13 at the Davison County Fairgrounds in Mitchell. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)
Gunnar Yeo, right, shows a pig with the help of his showbuddies Lane Jorgensen, back, and Quinton Berg, left, during the iLead event on July 13 at the Davison County Fairgrounds in Mitchell. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)

Fred, the Duroc pig, steadily wandered around the arena surrounded by a huddle of three children in green shirts.

"Tap him right here," Quinton Berg said to Gunnar Yeo, a 12-year-old boy from Alexandria.

And with a tap of the soft whip, Fred moved in the desired direction.

"I got him to go the way I wanted," Yeo said with a smile.

Berg, 10, along with Lane Jorgensen, 17, were Yeo's "show buddies" during the 4-H/FFA iLead event on July 13. The event paired youth with special needs with two 4-H or FFA show buddies to learn about different livestock and how to show them. Though the 4-H and FFA members were from Davison, Hanson, Aurora, Jerauld, Buffalo and Sanborn counties, the event was open to children with special needs across the state, and about 40 youth total participated in the event. Each group was assigned either a hog, sheep or goat, some of which were provided by the 4-H children and others were provided by Audra Scheel.

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Amber Erickson and Scheel, both 4-H youth program advisers, worked together to bring the event to South Dakota.

Erickson said she had the idea to put on the iLead workshop after seeing something on Facebook about a similar event in Texas.

"To my knowledge it hasn't been done in South Dakota before," Erickson said. "I contacted my fellow co-worker Audra Scheel and asked if she would be willing to help take on this endeavor, and she was more than willing. It's kind of been an exciting journey since then."

Erickson said an event like this allows opportunity for all of the youth involved to have a voice for agriculture, to learn about how to show and care for livestock as well as form friendships among team mates.

"I think the greatest thing is all the youth involved have the opportunity to learn and grow," Erickson said. "They not only develop leadership skills, but they get to learn about the industry and advocate for the industry."

Animals with names like Lady Gaga, Sheila Opal, Emma and Fred filled the show arena as the show buddies helped their teammate and Erin Yost acted as judge.

Yost is an agriculture loan officer from First Dakota National Bank in Kimball and became involved with the event through her friendship with Scheel.

"I commend 4-H for running such a great event," Yost said. "I never had anything like this growing up, and all the kids are doing a great job. And, it seems like everyone is having a positive experience."

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The first round of animals were pigs. Then came the sheep and goats. Yeo, Berg and Jorgensen entered the ring with their Duroc where they stayed for several minutes as Yost evaluated their performance.

"You had a smile on your face, you knew exactly where I was and you knew exactly where your pig was," Yost said to Yeo.

Afterward, Yost made a point to tell everyone in the show arena area that there is more to showing livestock than leading them around the show ring.

"It doesn't end when you leave the ring, you've got to take care of them after," Yost said.

For the rest of the time, the kids ran around playing and visiting educational booths in a separate area. The topics included labeling different cuts of beef, a special olympics booth about "spreading the word to end the word," a nutritional booth about different fats, pork products, a table on sheep and goats and "grow your pig" where they learned that putting more money into taking care of a hog, or any animal, results in more pay off in the end.

Erickson and Scheel feel that the first-ever iLead event was a success because of "the smile on all of their faces."

"We're hoping it kind of takes off," Erickson said. "We're excited for the turnout this first year and hope it continues to grow and carries on year to year."

Their goal of a fun and educational event was met, and some children went away with new friends.

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"I can tell Quinton (had) a lot of fun with with Gunnar," Heidi Berg said. "He's been asking if we can have Gunnar come over for a playdate."

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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