Making Connections Monday: Champion Drive #IChooseBrenham @BrenhamISD #BISDwired

Kyle Merten, Alumni Relations Director for Blinn College and Brenham High School graduate, has always had an interest in helping children with special needs. Having worked for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for seven years, Merten experienced many programs throughout the state that could also benefit Brenham ISD students. When he returned to Brenham after receiving his master’s and doctorate in agricultural education from Texas A&M, he approached Leslie Broesche, BISD Director of Special Education, with an idea. Together Merten and Broesche presented a program to the Washington County Fair Board that would pair BISD 4H and FFA students with BISD students with special needs to give them an opportunity to participate in the fair experience. Champion Drive was born and the team began working on logistics.

In 2014, Brenham ISD 4H and FFA students applied to participate as “buddies” in the first ever Champion Drive. Over 40 buddy students were selected to participate based on their application. Broesche met with Brenham ISD teachers to review and evaluate students with special needs who would be a good fit for the program. Broesche, who works closely with her student population, knew which students would be physically and mentally capable and willing to participate. Almost 20 students ranging in age from 9-18 and representing every BISD campus were selected to be participants. Fundraising efforts in the first year of the program produced over $4,000. These funds were used to purchase plaques and t-shirts for participants, as well as provide lunch for participants, buddies, and their families. In 2015, the Champion Drive program expanded to over 30 participants with special needs and over 60 buddies. With double the donations from 2014, the program was able to provide personalized, engraved leather backpacks for each participant, as well as a $30 cash prize. Lunch was again provided for participants, buddies, and their families.

Merten shared that the program is a huge effort with nearly 80 volunteers working together to prepare the livestock and help the participants get to know the animals. The day begins at 7:00 am with preparation of the animals to get them show ready by 8:30 am. Buddies arrive for a debriefing and then meet with participants to spend time in the pens getting acclimated to the animals. Some of the participants have sensory issues and this time is critical for them to feel safe and comfortable during the experience. The Champion Drive event usually begins around 11:00 am and lasts about an hour. During that time, a specially selected judge speaks to each individual participant for a special moment in the spotlight. At the end of the event, lunch is served in the Washington County Fairgrounds VIP room.

The goal of the Champion Drive program is to provide a fair experience to Brenham ISD students with special needs and their families. Merten and Broesche hope to continue to grow the program and were thrilled that a Champion Drive alumni participant even showed his own animal this year. Click here to view the slideshow of the 2015 event. For more information on how to be involved in the 2016 event, contact Leslie Broesche at 979-277-3700.