The National FFA Organization pushes its members to create opportunities for others. For example, the organization has helped the homebound, taken in neighbors during storms, put its ag skills into action for the community, and so much more. Nurturing a deep passion for that mission, Meredith McCrorey, an FFA member with the Newton College & Career Academy in Georgia, started a special needs livestock show — Unique Kids Showing Pigs.
With this first-of-its-kind event in her community, she wanted to provide every kid the same opportunity in agriculture and to allow all to showcase their abilities.
In a public-school setting, it is estimated that 14 percent of students receive special education services — that is nearly 7.1 million students nationwide — according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. But just like any other student, special needs students excel when they find something they love — like hands-on activities and being surrounded by friends.
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, gravitated toward the hands-on experience that agriculture classes provided. After watching Gabby’s infectious smile throughout the day, McCrorey helped enroll Gabby into a local livestock show. McCrorey acted as Gabby’s buddy throughout the day and helped her show the pig.
McCrorey said Gabby had the time of her life showing the pig — the joy seemed never-ending. After talking with her advisor, McCrorey wanted to share these kinds of opportunities with more young people. She set her sights on hosting a pig show specifically for kids with special needs.
While motivation, enthusiasm, and a support structure were vital to McCrorey and her mission, it also needed money to come to fruition. According to Newton FFA Advisor Cecily Gunter, the community is considered to be 71 percent poverty. However, McCrorey was able to raise $7,000 through donations and sponsorships, which helped make the show free for the special needs exhibitors. Each participant received a medal and T-shirt.
After securing the funds, McCrorey had to prepare for the event and consider the safety protocols f0r everyone involved. The show entry forms that were sent out to the students needed adjustments since this would not be a typical event. She worked with her Special Education Department to set up the form to be all encompassing for the students and their needs.
Once the money was raised and 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 Newton College & Career Academy 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 said they enjoyed it.
Now a senior about to graduate, McCrorey has successfully put on two independent shows for special needs kids in the past two years. In the first year, McCrorey had nine special needs students participating in the show and celebrating their abilities. In the second year that number grew significantly: the Unique Kids Showing Pigs event reached 30 students — its max capacity due to the arena size and safety protocols.
McCrorey attributes the growth to word of mouth about the event. The kids themselves, along with their appreciative families, do a lot to market the event.
“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,” McCrorey said.
McCrorey hopes the event can continue to grow. Depending on the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCrorey is eager to provide the experience for a third time for the special needs kids. She said she would love for other FFA chapters to do something similar for their communities.
For groups that are interested in hosting their own show, McCrorey recommends reaching out to their special needs community early. Have them involved every step of the way — from getting the word out to helping with the entry forms to working to accommodate every child. McCrorey encourages others to really focus on the students and their experience.
And most of all, have fun with it, McCrorey says, enthusiastically.
For her ideas and actions, McCrorey was recognized as a National Proficiency Finalist. Agricultural Proficiency Awards honor FFA members who, through supervised agricultural experiences (SAE) — like the Unique Kids Showing Pigs — have developed specialized skills that they can apply toward their future careers. With her own SAE project, McCrorey placed in the top four in the nation for the Unique Kids Showing Pigs event.
“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.”
Kacie Hulshof, the associate editor for AGDAILY, is a farmer’s daughter and farmer’s wife, but most importantly an advocate for farmers and ranchers. Growing up on a farm she was able to experience all the joys and hardships that come with that life. Her passion for agriculture grew so strong she decided to dedicate her life to telling the story of the agriculture industry.