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4-H Program Mourns Loss Of Wisconsin State Fair, But Has Used Pandemic To Grow Programming

Joy Powers
The Wisconsin State Fair in 2017.

In another timeline, Thursday would have been the opening day of the Wisconsin State Fair. But earlier this year, the fair was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most county fairs followed suit.

While it’s still possible to line up and get one of the fair’s famous cream puffs, there won’t be any events, including those featuring the work of kids in 4-H programs around Wisconsin. Many spend all year preparing for the fair, and it’s an opportunity not only to show off their work but have it judged by professionals.

Dondieneita Fleary-Simmons, the state program manager of 4-H, says the loss of these fairs has been difficult for students around the state. But she says the group is using this as a chance to grow by providing more opportunities to students. 

"We’re giving young people a chance to mourn and process the loss of things as they have been and then really think innovatively and creatively about how to make things different," says Fleary-Simmons. 

4-H has transitioned to being mostly virtual, with some in-person and socially distanced programs. While the switch to virtual didn't feel like a natural fit at first, Fleary-Simmons says the change has allowed them to explore things that would have been more difficult in the past. She uses balloon art as an example. 

"Before now, I had to just read about it on my own and figure out how to do balloon art, and I was pretty isolated in learning how to do that ... But now, because of the virtual space, all I need is one ballon art leader and no matter where you are in the state you can Zoom in to that balloon art class and be in a company of people who love balloon art as much as you do," she explains. 

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Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM January 2016 as a producer for Lake Effect.