BRENHAM, Texas (KTRK) -- Let's be honest: there's a whole lot of sights, smells and things to touch and feel at a county fair, and for students with special needs, the experience can be awesome but also overwhelming.
However, for students with special needs in the Brenham Independent School District, September's Washington County Fair has become a treasured experience with the Champion Drive Special Edition Livestock Show.
Introduced to the school district in 2014, the Champion Drive program is designed to give the fair experience to Brenham ISD students with special needs, along with their families.
"The concept is taking youth with special needs, giving them a real world experience of what it's like to exhibit a livestock project at a local stock show," said Champion Drive co-chair Kyle Merten.
A collaborative effort between school, staff, students and volunteers, the program pairs BISD 4H and FFA students with district students with special needs.
The "buddies" spend time together, getting to know the animals, learning how the livestock show will work and working to feel safe and comfortable during the show experience before exhibiting during the Champion Drive event.
Fundraising for the event provides lunch for the participants, buddies and their families, along with scholarships for buddy students at the end of the school year.
Brenham High School quarterback and Champion Drive buddy Alldyn Schroeder says his participation in the program has helped open his eyes to the challenges others face while also helping his personal growth.
"I definitely think it just makes me a better person, just makes me aware of everything and just what other people are going through," Schroeder said.
Leslie Villere, special education director for Brenham ISD, says the record number of students expressing interest in Champion Drive echoes the success of the program.
"One particular participant said to me this was the best day of my life and it was really sweet, genuine reaction to being able to participate in an activity that he normally wouldn't get to be a part of," Villere said.
This year's event will feature 39 student exhibitors "buddied-up" with 70 4H and FFA students.
Brenham ISD students and children with special needs buddy up for special livestock program
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