Teens Raising Livestock, Maturing Under Guidance of Juvenile Court
By Csaba Sukosd | September 19, 2018
Just like most rural parts of Ohio, Clinton County can offer the comforts and conveniences of home. But sometimes, those comforts are disrupted. For at-risk children and teens, the concern is when one problem multiplies into long-term struggles.
"My grandma and mom passed away [last year], and I missed almost a month of school. It was a lot but I was going through a time and I got put on probation for it. Honestly, I don't know if I would've graduated high school," said Dawson Stein, who ended up in the county's juvenile court system.
In 2017, Stein dealt with a troubling period in his life, but others felt he was far from troubled. So, Chad Mason, the community service coordinator for Clinton County Juvenile Courts, and his colleagues, showed Stein that you don't have to be family to care.
"They want to make better of themselves. They want to learn responsibility. They want to be around good people that teach them things that can stick with them for their life," Mason said.
As a lifelong farmer, Mason was in the middle of implementing a pet project, specifically, rearing pigs. He felt Stein would be a perfect fit for Bacon & Bits, a 4-H Club program he started on behalf of the court. It's an outlet for at-risk youth that helps them raise an animal under the guidance of 4-H advisers for the county fair.
"When we start out, our pigs weigh about 70 pounds. We run them up to about 250. They come out. They wash them. They treat them just like a dog, better than a dog sometimes," said Roger Mason, a 4-H volunteer adviser and Chad's uncle.
The immediate focus was to teach the kids how groom the hogs for the big show at Clinton County Fairgrounds.
"They come in very timid, always very timid. They may be the most outspoken individual in the classroom, or something like that, but you bring them in here and get them uncomfortable," said Ryan Frommling, another 4-H volunteer adviser. "To watch them grow in the end and be very outspoken and hold their head up high with something is unbelievable. You can tell when they leave the barn they're proud of what they just accomplished."
The bigger goal is to show the youth the value of caring about what they do and other people.
"That relationship between the adults and the kids that carry on, that to me, has also been a huge success and a needed part of the program," said Traci Montague, the Clinton County 4-H youth development educator for Ohio State University.
The nurturing process is proving not only to raise animals but also to foster maturing young adults.
"I'd actually like to be a counselor, just because I've been through a lot and I know I can help people a lot, especially people that are in trouble. I can help, I feel like, steer them in the right direction and get their head right out of trouble," Mason said.