ORLAND, Calif. — All her life, Amanda Houtrouw dreamed of raising her own goat and taking it to auction at her county fair.
This year, thanks to the mentorship of her fellow FFA members in Willows, Calif., she got the chance.
Houtrouw was one of six students with special needs who took part in her school’s first Mighty Honker Goat Project, which paired them with mentors who helped them raise, present and sell goats at the Glenn County Fair on May 18-21.
“I learned how to walk a goat and to clean his pen,” she said, adding that she and her mentor, Gina Amaro, will be friends forever.
The project was created by Willows High School senior Makaylee Lindsey, who saw a similar project at a fair in Southern California, she said.
“I went to the county fair in Santa Barbara and my cousin was a part of the program,” Lindsey said. “I decided to bring the program here.”
She rallied local businesses and agriculture boosters to donate materials and help with the cost, which was about $1,000 per student.
The students with intellectual disabilities were each given a goat purchased by donors in February, and they accompanied their mentors three afternoons a week to the high school’s farm to work with their animals.
The youngsters fed their goats, cleaned the stalls, weighed their goats and practiced showing the animals.
One of the students, Ryan Torres, and his mentor, Luis Garcia, raised the grand champion goat.
“It’s awesome,” said Staci Alves, an agriculture teacher at Willows High. “It kind of brought tears to everyone’s eyes.”
The students got to keep half the proceeds from the sale of their goats, while the other half went into a fund to continue the program.
The project has had an impact on the high school’s campus life, Alves said. Special-education students felt separated from the rest of the school, “but not anymore,” she said.
One of the students didn’t want to make eye contact with people, but now he can, she said.
“I think it has more of an impact on these kids,” the mentors, Alves said. “They’re not even trained (as teachers). It’s very natural.”
The parents of the special-needs kids said the experience taught them responsibility and gave them more confidence. Angelique Gomez said he daughter, Yolanda, has learned respect for animals and how to work with others.
“It’s a good opportunity for the kids,” said Maria Rojo, whose daughter Alejandra participated in the program. “Alejandra is so happy. … This is the first time she could enter. She’s so happy and excited.”