SALEM, Ohio – When classmates were readying for their senior homecoming dance at Lincoln High School in Ellwood City, Pa., and anticipating Sept. 28 as one of the best nights of the year, Josie Badger was also preparing for a big night.
But hers was different. Though there were no sequined gowns on her agenda, there were plenty of last minute preparations and fun with friends, music and good food.
Not to mention school credits – ones that will help Josie graduate next spring with a feeling of accomplishment, not only for herself but a group of young people who might not have otherwise enjoyed the opportunities she provided.
Social planner. Josie organized the annual Best Friends Hayride and hosted it on her family’s Wampum-area farm.
Best Friends, part of the Children’s Friendship Network, is an organization that brings children with and without disabilities together to create friendships and have active social lives in the company of their peers.
The organization has recently undergone some financial difficulties, Josie said, and her initiative to coordinate the event “was really beneficial to them.”
Helping others. While some of Josie’s classmates’ projects include restoring cars or taking lessons on a musical instrument, she opted to choose a project that would make more of an impact and go beyond herself.
She immediately thought of the annual hayride – hosted on her family’s farm for the past five years – as an activity to help with.
Her family had previously hosted the event because a member of Josie’s 4-H club, also an amputee, was involved in the organization. Because of that young man, the club had assisted the four-county organization in putting on the event, Josie said.
“I decided with this I could really learn something. Plus this is their largest activity,” she said.
Special event. Aside from a tractor-pulled hayride, the event featured a bonfire, pony rides, a potluck dinner, petting zoo, corn maze and performances by a country and rock band.
The maze and pony rides were most popular with attendees.
“The expression on the kids’ faces when they sat on the horses for the first time was unforgettable. It seemed to make all of the work worthwhile,” Josie said.
Other members of the Paw Printz 4-H club helped set up and run the event, and local businesses donated all food and other supplies. Josie figured the event would have cost more than $1,500 without the donations.
“My family has been wonderful in helping, too,” she said, noting her parents were understanding but asked that some modifications be made for the corn maze because of the drought.
“We were only allowed to make paths between the rows so we didn’t have to cut so much corn down,” she said.
Showing farm life. One of the biggest issues Josie ran into with the event was handling such a large number of people – nearly 300 came – who were unfamiliar with farm life.
“A lot of the kids were from the city and there are a lot of hazards to look out for. They don’t know the safety around ponds or animals or electric fence,” she said.
“Plus, a lot of them have mental disabilities, so they don’t always understand what’s around them,” she said.
To help monitor each activity, Josie enlisted the help of more than 50 volunteers – a move that put her project over and above those of her classmates.
“When I told my teachers about the project, all they said was ‘good luck,'” she said.
Time commitment. Josie estimated that she put close to 100 hours into the planning since April.
“I knew this would be a lot of work, but I’ve always had in interest in Best Friends. I want to go to college to study business in the disability area, so this was a great way to learn about planning and organizations,” she said.
“Plus, even though it was on the night of homecoming, this was more important.
“All my friends wanted to come, too,” she said.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!