CADIZ, Ky. (May 9, 2018) — The Trigg County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is helping one young man fulfill his dreams.
Jonathon Sink, 19, was born with a neurological condition called apraxia, which makes communication difficult for him. While it is challenging for him to speak, Sink has found comfort and calmness interacting with and caring for animals. Over the years, he successfully completed many 4-H and FFA livestock projects.
“Jonathon has told me, ‘Animals are not complicated. Communicating with people can frustrate me, but an animal doesn’t, because it can’t talk,’” said Jennifer Sink, his mother. “As a mom watching him grow up with animals, interacting with them has been so natural for him.”
When the Sink family moved to Trigg County last year, Jonathon decided he wanted to share his love of animals with his peers, who may have developmental disabilities. He started searching for similar youth programs and found one in Oklahoma.
“I thought it was a good opportunity for 4-H and FFA to get involved (with this audience),” said Jonathan, who is a student at Hopkinsville Community College.
The Sinks worked with Janeen Tramble, the county’s 4-H youth development agent, to create a weeklong camp called 4-H Challenge Me that introduces students to animals and agriculture. Together, they approached the school system about the idea of having the camp during Trigg County High School’s intercession week, which gives students an opportunity to participate in activities outside of the normal curriculum.
During the week, students with developmental disabilities were paired with peer mentors. These mentors were high school students who were participating in an intercession community service project. Students independently volunteered for the project but were required to have some knowledge of agriculture to participate.
“I’ve learned how to be patient and to compromise this week,” said Briley Mitchell, Trigg County freshman and peer mentor. “I’ve also learned that you can always learn more.”
Throughout the week, students got to hold, lead and interact with a variety of animals, including horses, cows, goats and chickens. They also learned about each animal’s role in agriculture and food production. The Sink family, including Jonathon’s three younger sisters, helped lead many portions of the program along with other community partners.
“I had never ridden a horse before,” said DeKavion Jones, a Trigg County junior. “I had never even seen one up close before.”
Trigg County High School teachers Dottie Mullinix Hiter and Kelly Carver also volunteered during the week to work with the students and have enjoyed watching the young people get out of their comfort zone and be exposed to new things.
“I never thought everyone would get on a horse, but they all did,” Carver said. “It’s been great to see the students interact with the peer mentors.”
For Tramble, the week was particularly special as she watched the young people’s enthusiasm, understanding and love for animals and each other grow.
“I’ve worked in 4-H youth development for 29 years, and you do it because you think you are making an impact on young people’s lives,” Tramble said. “This week, these students have made such an impact on me. It’s really been the most amazing week of my career, and I’ve enjoyed helping Jonathon live out his dream.”
Jonathon Sink’s ultimate goal is to eventually work with the school system to lead a 4-H club that allows the students to continue to interact with animals.
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