GALT, Mo. – Layton Stonger and his sheep, Wooly and Roo, quietly stole the 4-H sheep show at the 2015 Missouri State Fair.
The crowd rooted for the 9-year-old as he pulled his sheep around the show ring. Layton leads his sheep with a metal device built by his grandfather. The device attaches to Layton’s wheelchair.
Layton, a member of Panther 4-H Club in Sullivan County, has cerebral palsy. He is among a growing number of 4-H’ers with disabilities celebrating National 4-H Week, Oct. 4-10.
University of Missouri Extension 4-H specialist Patty Fisher says 4-H is a perfect fit for youth with disabilities. Missouri 4-H members with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, dwarfism and other disabilities become empowered through learning life skills and making friendships.
Although 4-H maintains its roots in agriculture and home economics, new projects such as robotics, archery and entomology draw audiences with diverse interests.
Fisher says the entire 4-H community grows when a child with a disability joins 4-H, especially in rural areas where resources may be more limited than in urban areas. Children with disabilities, and their parents, may face isolation in rural areas. 4-H offers them a way to interact and network with other families with similar interests, she says.
Family involvement extends beyond the immediate household in many cases, says Layton’s mother, Jenna Wynne. As the oldest child and oldest grandchild, Layton has a flock of supporters.
Grandparents like Layton’s often provide support. In addition to building the pulling apparatus, Terry Wynne bought Layton’s sheep as a birthday gift upon the advice of a friend, Jake Campbell. “Maw Maw” Diane Hanes feeds and waters the sheep daily. Dad Derrick Stonger, grandfather Randall Stonger, and stepdad Caleb Biggs are actively involved. Even his great-grandmother Roberta Sayer cheers him on. Sister Lexa is a “Clover Kid” enrolled in 4-H’s program for children 7 and under.
“Some people say it takes a village to raise a child,” his mother says. “Well, it takes a small army to show sheep.”
Layton added ribbons from the state fair to his collection from county fairs. But it’s more than ribbons. He enjoys visiting with others and learns how to interact. Before exiting the state fair show ring, he rode his wheelchair over to shake hands with the fair judge and thank him for his time and comments.
Cerebral palsy affects Layton’s legs, left arm and trunk muscles. He uses a walker and leg braces some of the time. When he tires, he uses an electric wheelchair. He boards the school bus by backing his wheelchair onto a ramp.
He participates in Special Olympics, basketball, track and horseback riding. He likes watching television, playing video games, playing with siblings and spending time with his grandfathers.
Layton has more than 5,300 followers on his Facebook page, The Life of Layton. You can follow his adventures at https://www.facebook.com/Lifeoflayton.
Learn more about 4-H at http://extension.missouri.edu/4h/.