American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Special Issue: Early Childhood      BEYOND THE CLASSROOM

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My Life in 4-H

by Kaitlyn Ryan

From the Editor: Kaitlyn Ryan has attended several of the STEM-based summer programs sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute. She is attending BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis to build her skills and confidence before she enters college.

My family has farmed in the area around Viola, Illinois, for generations, and nearly everyone has been involved in 4-H. 4-H is a worldwide youth organization that has been around since 1902. The name comes from the organization's motto, "Head, heart, hands, and health." The 4-H slogan is, "Learn by doing," and the organization focuses on hands-on activities.

Because of my family's involvement it was naturally assumed that I would join 4-H. Nobody ever suggested that my blindness would be a problem. In fact, the 4-H leaders in my town encouraged me to take part. I have been a 4-H member since I was six, and the organization has really helped shape my life.

In rural areas most children involved in 4-H raise animals of some kind, and I was no exception. I raised goats, and when I was eight I began to show my animals at county and state fairs. At a show you lead the goat into a ring and set up its legs, which means that you put the goat into the proper stance for the judges to evaluate it. You set the legs evenly, as though each hoof were at the corner of a square. I start training my goats for showing every April. I walk them around in the yard, and then I pause and set up their legs. By the summer when I show them, they know what to expect, and they hold still when I set their legs in the square formation. It just takes a lot of patience, a lot of repetition.

Through 4-H I've absorbed many values that are important in life. I learned responsibility because I had to feed my animals every day and make sure they are doing well. Later on I learned to manage finances. I had to keep a budget to pay for feed and vet bills. Another thing 4-H taught me is self-discipline. I had to take care of my animals all year long, even in the freezing winter and in the summer when it was really hot.

I also have had the opportunity to do some public speaking through 4-H. Once I gave a talk about physical fitness. Another time I spoke about blindness and the assistive technology that I use as a blind student.

For me as a blind person, growing up in a small town has had some real advantages. Everybody knows my family, so everybody knows me. People have seen what I can do, and they're not afraid to include me and to let me try new things. The major down side, though, is that out in the country there is no public transportation. It was really hard when everybody else my age was learning to drive.

Moving up to Minneapolis to go to BLIND, Inc., will be a big change for me. I'll have to deal with city traffic and learn to take the buses and the light rail. I'll also have to get used to being around lots and lots of total strangers. Meanwhile, back home, I know my goats are in good hands. My parents will take very good care of them while I'm away.

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