Future Reflections                                                                                           Convention 2004

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Hannah Joins the 4-H Club

by Jill Weatherd

Hannah, with a gentle but firm grip, demonstrates how to show a chicken at the state fair: bottoms up!
Hannah, with a gentle but firm grip, demonstrates how to show a chicken at the state fair: bottoms up!

Editor’s Note: Hannah Weatherd, who is ten years old, has attended seven NFB National Conventions with her parents. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because you heard about how Hannah was in a national McDonald’s commercial four years ago. The Weatherds live in the small town of Lima (population 280) in Montana. Brad and Jill, both college graduates of the University of Wyoming, work as Rangeland Management Specialists. Jill grew up in Wyoming and Brad in Kansas and Wyoming. Small town life under the Big Sky of Montana is a way of life they know and love. Wherever Hannah may choose to live after she grows up, for now, the Weatherds are determined that she shall participate fully in the life of their community and do what all the other kids are doing. And for kids who grow up in rural Montana, this almost always means joining the 4-H Club when you turn nine. Jill did 4-H when she was a kid, and so did Brad. And so are Hannah and her younger (sighted) brother, Levi. When I asked Jill to give a presentation using the theme, “transitions,” she decided to talk about Hannah’s ongoing transition into full participation in the 4-H Club. After hearing Jill’s presentation, my only question is, “How can we sneak a chicken into the hotel for next year’s convention so Hannah can give us a demonstration of her showmanship skills?” While I ponder that problem, here is an expanded and edited version of what Jill had to say when she followed Ryan Strunk on the parents and student panel:

Thank you. It was so inspiring to hear Ryan talk. Every time I hear a successful kid—well, I guess he’s not a kid anymore—but it just inspires me because I think, “Oh, that could be Hannah someday.” When Mrs. Cheadle asked me to talk to you today, I decided to talk about our experiences with 4-H. Does everybody know what 4-H is? I don’t know how well-known it is across the country, but it’s a club where kids choose a project from an approved 4-H list, work on the project at home and under the guidance of the club leaders, and then enter the project for exhibit at the county fair. About a year before Hannah was old enough for 4-H we asked Mrs. Cheadle if she knew about anybody else—a blind person—in the NFB who had been in 4-H as a kid. She said that she couldn’t think of a name right away, but was sure she could help us locate someone if we needed help or advice. However, we decided to just jump right in. We always knew that the NFB was there if we needed any help or we ran into anything that we didn’t know how to handle. I was just thinking this morning that someday Hannah’s going to be a resource for other blind kids who want to do 4-H!

It’s always been really important to Brad and to me that Hannah do what all of the other kids her age are required to do in school, church, or whatever other activities she’s involved with. And we always keep pretty close tabs on things just to be sure that she isn’t being given special treatment. We know that there’s always a way for her to complete the requirements, but sometimes it takes a little extra thought and advance planning.

First of all, 4-H involves lots of meetings and lots of voting. I started to notice that Hannah would never vote. I asked her about this and she said, “I don’t know what they are talking about. I don’t know what they are voting about.” So we talked to her about sitting up and paying attention so that she could help her club make decisions. But she still wasn’t voting. Finally, we had to make it mandatory. We said, “You’re going to vote. We don’t care how you vote, but you’re going to vote.” So she started voting and now it’s not a problem.

Community service projects are another part of 4-H. Each kid is required to volunteer to do a part of each project. So again, I’m sitting in the meetings and looking at her and she’s not raising her hand to volunteer to do anything—and she’s getting away with it. So, Brad and I sit down with her and talk about how it’s important in life to be a giver and not a taker. “You need to volunteer and help,” we told her. “Every person in a club has to carry their own weight. At the next meeting,” we said, “You have to volunteer for something. When they ask for volunteers, you raise your hand.” So she volunteered our house for the next activity. (She’s kind of a vindictive little child.) But she also volunteered to make a dessert for the senior banquet, and she did a beautiful job.

Through the years we have found out that if we treat Hannah’s blindness in a matter-of-fact way, then other people are more comfortable about it. We always try to be approachable because we want people who are working with Hannah to feel free to ask us questions or to ask her questions and to tell us about their concerns. After the kids in 4-H choose their projects for the year, they meet with their project leaders to complete their lessons. I usually try to talk to the project leader before each meeting and find out what lesson they will be doing. For example, at the last project meeting the plan was to talk about choosing and building rabbit nesting boxes. So I knew that they would be doing measuring. Of course we had lost the fancy Braille measuring tape that we had special-ordered, so I took a regular measuring stick and put a little fabric paint on it. Hannah used it for the activity at the meeting and it worked well. As I said, with a little advance planning, almost anything can be made to work.

Hannah’s three projects last year were cats, poultry, and photography. For each project they have to have a project journal and a financial record. I wasn’t really sure how Hannah was going to manage because at the end of each meeting they write down what they did at that meeting. I knew Hannah would not, or could not, drag a Braillewriter or a computer to each meeting. She ended up taking her slate and stylus along to record what she did at the meeting. When she got home she transferred her hand-Brailled notes onto the computerized record form using her screen reading software. However, the record forms were full of tables and they were really hard to navigate. This year, I decided to make up a different form that was easier for her to work with on the computer. The 4-H office liked my form so well they asked me for copies so that they can pass them along to other club leaders. And Hannah won an award for her record book last year!

Hannah’s cat project went really well. Her leader, Jackie, is a good friend of mine. She’s known Hannah all her life. When it was time to show the 4-H group how to do the showman stuff for cats, Jackie had Hannah put her hands on top of hers and then led her through all the steps. Hannah did lots and lots of practicing for the cat showmanship. When we got to the fair and it was her turn to do the showmanship, Jackie went up and told the judge that Hannah is blind. There weren’t any adaptations that the judge needed to make for her; it was just a courtesy. Hannah had to show the cat’s teeth and the inside of its ears. She also had to make its claws come out and do all these bizarre little steps. Right before the showmanship started we showed Hannah where she would have to walk, where the judging table was, and which way to face. We talked about where she could put her cane while she showed the cat. She did a really good job. She got “Reserve Champion” for her showmanship. We’re really proud of her. I wish she were here to hear all this applause.

Hannah also showed her chicken at the fair. Brad and I were leaders of the Poultry Project so it was easy for us to teach her the ten steps of showing a chicken. This includes holding the chicken upside down, demonstrating its wingspan, and showing how many finger widths go between its different personal private parts. (You have to tell the judge whether the chicken is a good layer or not based on this last information. Brad showed her that part—I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.) I think the judge of the chicken contest was a little bit nervous about Hannah’s blindness and let Hannah off the hook a little bit. Hannah only got a red ribbon, which is sort of medium. She has room for improvement this year.

I want to talk about the photography project because it didn’t go as well. The reason it didn’t go so well is because we didn’t do much advance planning. Hannah actually did fine with the actual photography and the project lessons, but when we got to the fair, we found out that she was going to have to do an interview with the judge and discuss the photos. We learned that no one is allowed in the room during the interview except the judge, the contestant, and the project they are showing. No parents or 4-H leaders are allowed, and no exception was made for Hannah. It was just she and the judge. So Hannah had to go in by herself. The first thing the kid is supposed to do is to escort the judge over to their photo display. Well, we had visited the display room the day before but we didn’t make a special effort to tell Hannah to pay attention to the location of her display. So when the judge said, “Take me to your project,” she said, “I don’t know where it is.” So somebody had to step in and find it for her. When they got to the photo display the judge had lots of questions about each picture. The judge would point to one and say, “What camera did you use to take this picture?” Then she would point to another one and say, “Why did you decide to take this picture?” Well, Hannah didn’t know what pictures the judge was pointing to and since Hannah is also kind of shy, she didn’t say, “Could you describe the picture for me?” We talked about the interview with Hannah later. Brad and I said, “If you had labeled those pictures in Braille you would have been able to discuss them with the judge.” We said “Next time you have a project that’s new to you or to us, you need to call the 4-H office in advance and ask them what’s going to be expected of you at the fair exhibit.” So that’s what she’s going to do this coming year.

Another thing we don’t have figured out is how she is going to help run the 4-H concession stand. Each member is required to work an eight-hour shift selling hamburgers, drinks, and lunch items at the fairgrounds during the county fair. The concession stand is one of the club’s big fund-raisers, with the profits going toward the purchase of project manuals, community service projects, and fun activities. We know that she can help out in the concession stand; we just haven’t got it figured out yet. It’s very chaotic in the stand with supplies scattered all over the place, so we’re thinking about having her make the milk shakes. If she can have all her milkshake supplies in one place and she has control of it, I think she’ll be okay. But if anybody has any ideas about how she can take orders or handle the money, we’re really open to suggestions.

[At this point, several blind NFB members in the audience who own and operate concession stands and other food businesses spoke up and offered to talk with the Weathereds later in the convention. Their advice—which the Weathereds acted on—was against putting her in the corner doing only one thing. So, with a little help from mom, Hannah wrapped hamburgers, took orders, filled soda drink cups, made change, wiped counters, and goofed off with the friends working the concession stand with her. She needed more help with some things, but memorized the price list and was soon the expert on calculating change. Next year, Jill says, she anticipates that Hannah will need much less help, if any, when she works the concession stand with her club members.]

Here’s one more little tip. In 4-H there’s lots of traveling around in a van with other kids. Hannah’s shy so she sometimes has trouble getting involved in the action, especially on these trips. So I always encourage her to take along a little game like an electronic Simon or tic-tac-toe game that she can play with other kids. This has helped.

We always try to approach things from the angle of “How is she going to do this”—not, “Will she be able to do this?” The NFB is where we got this philosophy. She really is just like the other kids in our town. She does the same things they do, including joining 4-H, displaying at the county fair, and doing well at some things and having room for improvement in others—just like all the other kids at the fair. Hannah really enjoyed her first year of 4-H and, with a little advance planning, I think the coming year is going to go great, too. This year the three projects she has chosen are poultry, arts and crafts, and rabbits. So far, we’ve only had one unauthorized batch of baby rabbits, so we’re doing okay. Thank you.

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