Everyone loves a county fair. But for 4-Hers, it’s especially important. The annual Thurston County Fair marks the end of a year of hard work getting their projects ready to show. It’s a week of fun with friends, learning and of course, fair food. When the Thurston County Fair was cancelled due to COVID-19, the 4-H community stepped up to ensure her kids still got as much of the Fair experience as they could.

“I think by the time it was announced it was assumed that it would be cancelled,” says Helping Hounds 4-H Leader Natalee Andrews about the Fair cancellation announcement. “It was difficult to tell the kids since it was just one more in a line of disappointments, but they did take it ok. I would say 4-H kids in general are pretty resilient.”

“I’m disappointed that the fair was cancelled and I’m missing my friends and the interaction with the public,” shares 11-year-old Amelia Andrews who is a member of Helping Hounds with her dog Pippi.  Her brother Kyle, 13, was also sad to miss out on hanging out with his friends and the Fair atmosphere.

Amelia Andrews was dissapointed about missing Fair, but had fun with her photo entries, including this COVID-related photo of Pippi. Photo courtesy; Natalee Andrews

Natalee had already done a virtual dog show earlier in the year as prep for what, at the time, they were hoping was going to be an in-person fair. The results were not what she had expected. “It was okay and the kids who participated enjoyed it but it wasn’t ‘fun,’” she says.

Some members shared Natalee’s opinion. “I was not sure about it because it didn’t seem as fun,” shares 11-year-old Aubrielle Mechur who is a member Helping Hounds with her dog Bella.

While others, like Amelia, thought it was something fun to do each week that was 4-H related. “I liked that because we didn’t have to leave the house,” adds 11-year-old Emburly Mechur, who is a member of Helping Hounds with his dog Herschel.

Natalee and the senior 4-H club members worked hard to create contests that would be more fun than their first go at a virtual show. They decided on 12 different contests, some that were more “fair like” in structure while others were purely for fun. “When the seniors got together on Zoom they felt fun contests would be better appreciated and so they run the weekly fun contests, which include a heeling pattern video, costume contest, draw your dog, COVID-inspired photo contest, a showmanship contest, and a trick contest,” she shares.

Since 4-H is all about learning and leadership, the senior members judged the classes they came up with and gave awards to each entry like cutest couple, most relatable, happiest dog, etc. “This way everyone gets recognized, and it keeps it light and fun for both those running it—our amazing seniors!—and those participating, given the current circumstances,” Natalee says.

Alainia enjoyed the wide range classes the virtual shows had to offer. Here is her drawing entry of
Lulu. Photo courtesy; Natalee Andrews

For the more fair-like classes, Thurston County 4-H leaders judged. This included classes like Brain Games (judging), Dog Knowledge Bowl and Record Books. “We also had kids participate in the virtual options the County provided for all projects with posters and public presentations,” she says. “Those have more Fair-like awards and were judged by the leaders in charge of those projects. The results were shared privately within the dog project for everyone to enjoy.”

A special project for 4-Hers called the Service and Leadership Project encouraged community service and leadership skills as well.

For 15-year-old Alaina Houser, who has been doing 4-H for nine years, the virtual events gave her something new and different. “I was definitely bummed out when the fair was cancelled,” shares Alaina, who is a member of the Kibbles and Bits 4-H club with her dog Lulu. “The Thurston County Fair is one of the highlights of my summer and has been for the past nine years. It is such a blast. I knew I would really miss the fun times and friendships built during the week. When I found out we were doing a virtual showcase, I was excited! It’s fun to have something to do each week. I love doing dog knowledge bowl and brain games. Both are trivia activities on dog knowledge, from breed ID to health, these two competitions teach you about a wide variety of topics. I was glad to be able to do it online and still get a chance to learn something new and keep up my knowledge.

“I also loved that there were some new activities like a COVID photo contest and a drawing contest,” she continues. “I loved seeing all the other members’ creative ideas. Even if we didn’t get to meet in person, it has been nice to still see everyone else’s hard work pay off. I can’t wait to see everyone again, but until then, this virtual showcase has been a great way to stay connected.”

Piper Fracker (pictured here for her costume entry) enjoyed the virtual shows and hopes they will continue even when there is a real fair, Photo courtesy; Natalee Andrews

Fifteen-year-old Piper Fracker was relieved when Fair was cancelled, even though she missed hanging out with friends, playing with the dogs and showing off what she has learned over the last year.  “I didn’t want to worry about COVID-19,” says Piper, who is a member of the Muttzketeers 4-H Club with her dogs Nanook and Talia. “The Zoom calls could be difficult at times because not everyone had great service. But it’s been a lot of fun, I’ve enjoyed interacting and not feeling as much pressure to perform since I get anxious in front of groups. It was less stressful to complete them in a timely manner, though they were funner in person.” Overall, Piper had a positive experience and is looking forward to getting her ribbons. She thinks the virtual Fair should continue, even when the in-person Fair can happen again. “I’m looking forward to next year in a safe environment. We need to do a virtual as well. Even when things go back to normal people should remain socially distant and wear masks when necessary.”

Awards for all events will be handed out when the contests are competed on September 6. Although every 4-Her would have loved to go to Fair this year under normal circumstances, they all made the best of what the year threw at them in true 4-Her fashion. Hopefully next year we can all head back to Fair, eat an elephant ear and share in the 4-Hers successes.

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