HEMPSTEAD, Texas – Everybody needs to have something special happen to them.
Julie Abke understands that, and it’s one of the reasons she’s part of the Waller County Fair Association. But she’s taken it a step further with the creation of Barnyard Buddies.
“It’s for kids from all over Waller County that are in special ed classes,” she said. “We have a special day just for them. We have a lot of different activities for them to do, and we have it in a four-hour day.”
It’s set for 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, and it’s Abke’s brainchild.
“We wanted to give those students an opportunity to do something special,” she said. “It’s a spot that’s dear to my heart, because my mom was a special ed teacher. It’s something I wanted to see happen. It was good last year, and I’m hoping to have it even better for them this year.”
In Barnyard Buddies’ inaugural run in 2015, 139 students participated. Teens from area Future Farmers of America programs served as the special education students’ buddies.
“We also had tons of adult volunteers who helped,” Abke said. “We are very fortunate to have great community support.
“I wanted to do it about three to four years ago, and last year the fair board told me to go through with it. Thankfully Barbie Schmidt, the ag teacher at Waller High School, has stepped in. She really helps me a lot.”
That also is helpful for the children. As an addition to this year’s festivities, the students will take part in a small showmanship clinic, where they will have hands-on lessons about what it’s like to show animals at the fair.
“We’re giving these kids an opportunity to be around the fair atmosphere,” she said. “This is a great way for them to actually participate.”
That’s the key for organizers. Abke hopes to have professional cowboys and cowgirls involved to help give the students real-life rodeo experiences.
“We’ve actually had tons more people that want to be involved this year,” she said. “it makes me feel good that people wanted to take part in it.”