Special-needs kids get a special day

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HEMPSTEAD, Texas – Barnyard Buddies isn’t just a big hit for the special-needs children involved in the day at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo.

The program – now in its fourth year and planned for 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 – has become a place to be for other youth interested in helping the special-needs youngsters.

“Last year we have 205 special-needs kids and 250 other kids from FFA, 4H, student councils and other organizations that came out and helped,” said Julie Abke, director with the Waller County Fair Board who oversees Barnyard Buddies. “We even had people from Tomball and Navasota, which are not in our county, that helped us out.”

That’s saying something. Barnyard Buddies was established to give special-education students in the county a special day just for them at the fair.

“It’s a spot that’s dear to my heart, because my mom was a special-ed teacher,” Abke said. “It’s something I wanted to see happen.

“I just feel it’s good for these special-needs kids that have a chance to interact with the fair. It gives them a chance for them to do something they never get a chance to do.”

Whether it’s enjoying the rides or getting up close with the animals, there are plenty of activities for the children involved. It’s important for them to gather all these experiences that so many people take for granted.

“My family, we live on a farm, so animals are second nature to us,” she said. “We rodeo for a hobby. A lot of people don’t do it, so this is a new experience for so many people.

“I just want this to get bigger and better every year. One of our sponsors is donating some ropes for the kids to have. The kids love the roping station.”

From time to treats, there are a number of people who make sure to donate each year so it’s something special for each youngster.

“It’s just great to see the smiles on their faces and them laughing and having a good time,” Abke said. “You just have to see it to believe it.

“They do appreciate it, and they do like it. Last year the petting zoo brought a pony ride with it. What does my heart the best is seeing the smiles on the helpers’ faces. They’re happy do be doing what they’re doing, and that’s seeing these kids enjoying their day.”


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