Words weren't necessary for eight special-needs children who enjoyed working with animals at the Franklin County Fair in Hilliard during a new 4-H program, the Greatest Showmen.

4-H'ers from multiple clubs spent several hours with the children July 19, helping them select an animal to name and instructing them how to show the animal.

At the conclusion of the Greatest Showmen, the children received a framed photo of them with their animal.

Brooke Fleshman, 17, a Galloway resident and a member of the Fantastic Futures 4-H Club, established the Greatest Showmen, modifying a program she had learned from another 4-H'er at the Scioto County Fair in Lucasville.

"I got the idea from a friend of mine and wanted to do it here," said Fleshman, a 12-year 4-H'er and senior who is homeschooled.

Instead of allowing students to select any animals, Fleshman opted to limit the Greatest Showmen to chickens, goats and rabbits.

"I had a great time, and we plan to do it again next year," said Fleshman, adding other 4-H'ers will need to expand the program after next year, her last year in 4-H. Membership in 4-H ends in December of the year in which a member turns 19.

Fleshman recruited other 4-H'ers to participate and solicited registrants via social media and the promoters of the Franklin County Fair, which was July 13 to 20.

About 20 4-H members mentored the students.

Emily Gabriel, a fair board member and a former 4-H'er, served as a judge.

Among the 4-H volunteers was Aleena Carson, 14, a member of the Grove City Clover Crew 4-H Club and a student at New Lexington Middle School.

Despite living about 90 minutes away in New Lexington, Aleena said, she was "so involved" with her 4-H club she didn't want to change clubs after moving away from Grove City two years ago.

"I didn't want to break ties (because) I was so involved here," said Aleena, adding she was eager to participate in the Greatest Showmen.

Aleena learned American Sign Language at New Lexington, something that helped her communicate with 15-year-old Owen Crosby of Blacklick.

Aleena gave other 4-H'ers a crash course so they could introduce themselves to Owen.

"(Owen) has dogs and cats at home ... so I know he would like this," said Rebecca Warden, his mother.

Owen has a disorder that causes epilepsy, Warden said, and he often communicates via sign language because speech is difficult.

Bobby Belair, 18, is a family friend.

Belair is a graduate of Licking Heights High School, is entering his freshman year at Ohio State University and is in his final year of eligibility as a 4-H member.

"It's wonderful to see the smile on their faces and how the (students) react," Belair said.

The Greatest Showmen helps the special-needs students and 4-H'ers in equal measure, Gabriel said.

"It gives exposure to animals in a controlled setting, provides an opportunity for them to socialize (and) it's a great experience for (the 4-H'ers) to explain how they raise the animals while mentoring," Gabriel said.

Other students who showed animals were Jeremy Maynard, 9, of Grove City and Alex Johnson, 16, of Dublin.

"(Alex) loves animals and I wanted him to have this opportunity," said Chris Johnson, the mother of Alex, who has Down syndrome.

Sarah Maynard said her son, Jeremy, who is on the autism spectrum, registered for the event after learning about it through the Autism Society Central Ohio.

"I love animals – any cute animal," said Jeremy, who showed a goat he named Rose, whom he described as "strong (and) stubborn."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo