CHARLESTOWN — For Charlestown resident Heidi Elliott, the Clark County 4-H Fair has been a family tradition for several generations.
She was a 10-year 4-H member herself, and her mother also participated in the event. Now, Elliott serves as a volunteer and corporation board member at the fair, and seven of her eight children, ranging from age 7 to 16, participate in the event.
“My older kids help the little kids with their projects — it’s kind of a family thing,” she said. “While I helped my oldest child learn to make cookies, now my older kids are teaching the younger kids how to make cookies. So the little ones are learning how to make cookies, and the older ones are learning how to teach how to make cookies.”
The Clark County 4-H Fair kicks off Friday, July 12, and runs until Saturday, July 20, and pre-fair events, including early project check-in, begin Thursday. Katie Whiteford, educator for the Clark County Purdue Extension, said there haven’t been any major changes to the fair lineup this year, and attendees can expect the usual festivities such as animal shows, carnival rides, tractor pulls and a llama costume contest.
Attendees can watch kids present animals such as cattle, horses, rabbits, goats and chickens, and they can see projects in areas ranging from furniture building to cake decorating. Whether they are presenting crafts or showing off their livestock, the event is a way to showcase what they have been working on throughout the year, according to Whiteford.
“I think my favorite part is just getting to see the kids’ hard work on display throughout the week, whether it’s food, posters, model building or livestock shows,” Whiteford said.
The fair typically attracts about 10,000 attendees, she said, including about 2,000 on the busiest nights. She estimates that about 1,000 projects will be submitted to the fair.
Whiteford said the fair is not just an educational experience for the kids — it’s also a family experience, she said, and for many in Clark County, the whole family is involved in the program. The 4-H Fair is a fun, safe place for families to go during the summer, she said, and kids are always excited to hang out with their friends during fair and seeing how they place in the competitions.
“It’s about celebrating the end of summer before kids go back to school,” Whiteford said.
The 4-H has something for everybody, Elliott said. Her children are involved in a variety of activities in the 4-H, including showing horses, sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits. They are also involved in dog obedience classes, and throughout the year, they work on projects related to cooking, sewing and electricity.
Her children are home-schooled, and she equates the Clark County 4-H Fair to their “finals week.” They learn skills such as time management as they start and finish their projects, and they must learn how to get their animals to the right weight or right conditions for the 4-H show — they can’t just show up that day and hope things work out, she said.
“All year long we work on our projects and we learn, and we take them to the fair, and that’s when they get their ‘grades,” Elliott said. “They get to see their job well-done displayed at the fair. For other people that aren’t in 4-H, I think it lets parents see, ‘hey, there is something in here that my kid could do well — I can let my kid shine in this particular area.’”
Cory Patton, Clark County 4-H committee chairman, said the program teaches kids values such as responsibility, leadership and community service, and it is an educational experience both for the participants and community members who are simply there as attendees.
“It’s a big thing for the community,” he said. “They take their kids out to the barns to see livestock, including some animals they don’t see unless they come to 4-H. The kids are there to answer questions, and it’s a learning experience for the community as well.”
Elliott said she was recently looking through photographs from past 4-H fairs, and one thing stood out to her.
“There are so many pictures of smiling, sweaty kids,” she said. “It is hot, it is awful, but every kid has a smile on their face. That’s what I’m most looking forward to — hearing all that fun jibber-jabber in the barn with the kids saying they’re going to go to this booth or they’re going to ride this ride or whatever. It’s just the fun chit-chat with the kids.”
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