The National FFA Organization is constantly pushing its members to create opportunities for others, and one Georgia FFA member did just that. Meredith McCrorey is an FFA member with the Newton College & Career Academy in Georgia. McCrorey started the first special needs livestock show — Unique Kids Showing Pigs — in her community. She wanted every kid to have the same opportunity in agriculture to showcase their abilities.
The idea started when McCrorey was a freshman working with a classmate who had special needs. In her floral class, McCrorey noticed that the classmate, Gabby, was having the time of her life with the hands-on experience that the agriculture classes provided. After watching Gabby’s infectious smile throughout the day, she helped enroll Gabby into a local livestock show. McCrorey acted as Gabby’s buddy throughout the day and helped her show a pig. McCrorey said Gabby had the time of her life showing the pig and never stopped smiling. After that day and talking with her advisor, McCrorey wanted every kid to have the same opportunity Gabby did.
Since then, McCrorey has successfully put on two independent shows for the special needs kids in the past two years. In the first year McCrorey had around nine special needs students participating in her unique show to celebrate their abilities. However, in the second year that number grew exponentially. In its second year, the Unique Kids Showing Pigs event reached its max capacity due to the arena size and safety protocols. That year, there were nearly 30 students participating in the show; McCrorey attributes the growth to word of mouth spreading the good news.
One example of the perfect word of mouth advertisement is when it comes directly from the kids and their families. McCrorey said, “I remember getting a picture that there is one kid that even wore his medal the next day because he was so happy about it and talked to his classmates about it.”
For the future, McCrorey is hopeful the event can continue to grow. Depending on the current pandemic, McCrorey still wants to provide the experience for a third time for the special needs kids. She would also love for other chapters across the country to incorporate a similar experience for their community.
“I see this event expanding every year,” McCrorey said. “Hopefully other chapters in different counties can get involved. I don’t want this to be limited to just our county. I want all kids across Georgia — and even the country — to be able to have this opportunity to get the experience to show livestock.”
The biggest piece of advice McCrorey gives to other chapters interested in starting their own show is to reach out to their special needs community early. Have them involved in every step of the way — everything from getting the word out to helping with the entry forms to helping accommodate every child. Lastly, McCrorey says to really focus on the students and their experience.
And most of all, have fun with it!
But just like any other idea, it needed money to come to fruition — and McCrorey was not going to let that stop her. In a community that is considered 71 percent poverty, McCrorey was able to raise $7,000 to accomplish her goals and be able to provide this service for others. Since she was able to raise the money through donations and sponsorships, the show was free for the special needs exhibitors. Each participant received a medal and T-shirt, free of charge.
After having the finances completely taken care of, the next step was to start planning. The entry forms that were sent out to the students needed adjustments since this would not be a typical show. They were able to work with their Special Education Department to set up the form to be all encompassing for the students and their needs.
Once the arena was set up to meet the needs of the students, it was show time — time to highlight the students and their abilities! Each participant was assigned an FFA chapter buddy. These buddies were volunteers from the FFA chapter who wanted to be involved in this unique show. Each buddy was given the form for their student to learn about their specific disabilities and triggers. The show was a success and the participants had a blast!
For her idea and actions, McCrorey was recognized as a National Proficiency Finalist. She placed top four in the nation for the Unique Kids Showing Pigs event. Congratulations to McCrorey, her chapter, but most importantly the kids who participate and get to experience the thrill of showing livestock and showcasing their abilities.