The mentoring program, “PALS,” was started at South Effingham High School 10 years ago under the capable leadership of master teachers, Mose Mock and Bill McIlrath. Mock, who has anchored, advised and taught the FFA program for most of his long career, started his FFA students working with eighth grade boys from Bethesda Home for Boys, who were already taking an animal science class from McIlrath.
The Ag class teaches the boys the basics of agriculture and animal husbandry, and ties in seamlessly with the high quality Hereford herd that has seen much progress under the management of McIlrath and Lucian Welty. Under Welty’s direction, all of the cows in the Bethesda herd now carry the BHB prefix — no small accomplishment for such a young herd.
The idea of “PALS” is for an individual FFA student to be the mentor for a Bethesda boy and work with that boy to teach him the art of halter-breaking heifers. Finally it teaches the boy how to show. A specific heifer is assigned each Bethesda boy/FFA student. All heifers come from the purebred, teaching Bethesda herd, which was made possible through the generous donations of Hereford breeders.
All of this year’s 10 Bethesda boys are from urban backgrounds. This makes the challenge for the FFA students even greater, but it also presents an opportunity for building character. When the Effingham County Fair and the Coastal Empire Fair are open, the Bethesda boys are responsible for feeding the heifers, cleaning the barn, tagging the heifers and weighing them. They learn how to take responsibility for another living creature. The FFA students teach the boys to wash, groom and otherwise prepare the heifers for the show. At Effingham the FFA mentors show the heifers, but at the Coastal Empire Fair in Savannah, it’s the Bethesda boys who do the showing.
Mock emphasized the character building aspect of the program that he said applies to both the boys and the high school students.
“It’s a win/win program for both sides because my FFA students learn to give back. They become positive role models for the boys,” Mock said.
One boy who benefited greatly from the program was Charles Hodges. Along with two other FFA alumni, Hodges volunteered to help this year with halter breaking the more difficult heifers, tying them out and assisting wherever and whenever needed. Hodges loved FFA and said the program helped keep him in school and even helped keep his sanity. He served as class historian in the 12th grade.
While in the 11th grade, Hodges placed first in class with a Bethesda heifer. In those days the FFA teens made two trips to Bethesda per week to work with the boys on showing skills. Charles enjoyed getting to know McIlrath at the time and called him a “walking encyclopedia” of cow knowledge.
Referring to Mock, Hodges said, “He was the best teacher I ever had and the best Ag teacher that ever walked the planet.”
Hodges credits Mock with putting the FFA program on its feet.
The “PALS” program is much more than teaching youngsters how to show cattle. It’s about leadership, building character and taking responsibility.Coastal Empire Winners
Swine show winners
Breed Class 2 Hampshire March Gilt
First Brittany Turner
Second Brian Gracen
Breed Class 3 Hampshire April Gilt
Second Jim Newton
Breed Class 3 Spotted Poland April Gilt
First Rachael Poole
Spotted Poland Reserve Champion Rachael Poole
Weight Class II
First Rachael Poole
Breed Class 3 Chester unite April Gilt
Second Brett Carter
Cattle Show winners
Fourth Alexis Studior fouth and fifth grade
Fifth place Jessica Norris sixth and seventh grade
Eighth place Bethany Long eighth and ninth grade
Breed Class 2 Red Angus
First Tara Carter
Second place Bethany Long
Red Angus Grand Champion Alexis Studior
Red Angus Reserve Champion Tara Carter
Breed Class 2 Hereford
Fifth place Courtney Christian
Breed Class 1 Cross Beef Breeds
First place Jessica Norris
Breed Class 2 Cross Beef Breeds
Sixth Courtney Christian
Breed Class 3 Cross Beef Breeds
First Lauren Conner