Tobie Blanchard, Merrill, Thomas A. | 2/3/2007 1:23:27 AM
Sisters Michele and Jennifer Hullum spend their afternoons caring for their animals. Both girls are in 4-H and show livestock. And both girls have had to overcome physical challenges. Michele has cystic fibrosis, and Jennifer has Down syndrome.
Showing livestock and their involvement in the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H program have given both girls the self-confidence and independence to overcome their obstacles.
"They don’t let their disability hinder them from doing something," said the girls’ mother, Jo Ann Hullum. "They know they can go out and do what they need to do."
Both girls are seniors at Dutchtown High School. Michele Hullum started showing animals in the fourth grade – beginning with chickens and later adding rabbits after her aunt gave her one.
"I like the rabbits, because they are quiet and soft and nice." Michele said.
Michele, who also is active in the 4-H fashion project, says she doesn’t let her illness slow her down. She managed to compete at 4-H University last summer shortly after being hospitalized for her cystic fibrosis.
This is her last year to show, but she says the lessons she has learned will stay with her.
"With the animals, I’ve learned responsibility," she said. "I’ve learned how to take care of myself with them and how to be friends with them. It’s taught me people skills, also."
In caring for the animals, Michele also has learned to care for her sister.
"I’ve learned to work with people who don’t always understand the way we do," she explained. "It has showed me a different level of teaching."
Jennifer Hullum is shy and has a difficult time communicating verbally, so Michele is there when it comes time to show.
"I’ll go in there with her and help her out and let the judges make sure they know what she is saying." Michele said.
The girls’ mother said it is a thrill for Jennifer to win.
"She understands what it means to be in championship row," Jo Ann Hullum said. "The excitement and look on her face when she brings home a plaque is unbelievable."
And there are many. The Hullums’ home in Geismar is filled with plaques, trophies and ribbons the girls have won over the years.
While winning is a goal of livestock exhibitors, Jo Ann Hullum says it is the day-to-day routine of caring for the animals that has helped Jennifer immensely with life skills.
"Every day she comes home from school she know she needs to water the rabbits," the mother said. "She knows she needs to go through and gather the eggs and bring them in the house. So it is just a sense of accomplishment for her. She knows what she needs to do, and she is able to go do it."
Jennifer Hullum will join the workforce next year, and her mother says her experience caring for the animals will carry over into a job. Michele Hullum plans to attend college and is looking forward to a career in the fashion industry.
The girls will participate in the LSU AgCenter’s state livestock show the second week in February.
The show is considered the highlight of the year for those involved in 4-H livestock projects, since it is where state championships are determined. But, as Jo Ann Hullum pointed out about her girls, the show also is about much more than winning.
"We are honored to sponsor this annual event, where young people across the state gather to build life skills in leadership, character and responsibility through educational livestock projects," LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor Paul Coreil said recently about the livestock show. "All of these young people are champions, whether the animals they are showing turn out to be winners or not."
4-H is the youth development and outreach program of the nation’s land-grant universities and is operated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter. Its purpose is to help young people develop skills and knowledge that will benefit them, their families and their communities throughout their lives.
In addition to livestock projects, 4-H’ers participate in a variety of community service activities and learn through projects that cover a broad range from computers to consumer education and food and fitness to forestry.
Last year, more than 7,200 youngsters participated in 4-H livestock projects across the state, and approximately 175,000 across Louisiana participate in the variety of 4-H activities each year.