Disability Doesn't Distract Teen

Carroll County 4-h/ffa Fair

July 28, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

Amanda Gail "Mandy" Kent sets goals and eliminates any obstacles to achieving them.

That determined philosophy has guided the 15-year-old Hampstead resident since she was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect usually resulting in partial paralysis.

"I have problems with my back and legs, but I deal with them and will deal with them the rest of my life," she said. "I wear braces tohelp me walk but I can manage without them."

Although she doesn'tdwell on her handicap, she never hesitates to "educate" people abouther condition, she said. She was the March of Dimes Poster Child from 1983 to 1985 and the organization's Good Will Ambassador for five years after that.

"Education keeps people, especially little children, from being afraid," she said.

Mandy applied that same goal-oriented philosophy to her 4-H citizenship project. The compilation of her first record book and an interview led to a first place in state competition. The book is now under consideration for a national award.Mandy will be off to Chicago in December for the final leg of that competition.

In addition to those activities, she keeps pace with her teen-age friends at North Carroll High School, where she is a member of the drama club and the Student Government Association. She alsois the youth representative on Immanuel Lutheran Church's council, secretary of the county's Lutheran Youth Organization and was a recentdelegate to the Youth Convention in Dallas.

She devotes hours each week to 4-H activities, her favorite pastime, she said.

This devotion to the club stems from the years she participated in the Handicapped Riding Program and the lifelong friendship she began with the program's developer, Robert M. Shirley.

"When I was a little girl, I loved the program, the horses, just everything about it," she said.

Recognizing her enthusiasm, Shirley said, "Have I got something for you," and encouraged Mandy to join a local 4-H club. She took his advice and her enthusiasm to the Deep Run Clovers Club in Manchester about six years ago, where she has been a dedicated member ever since, she said.

Mandy liked 4-H from the first minute she got involved, she said, and has worked her way through all its offices. As last year's president, she now is Deep Run's historian. She also is on the Carroll County 4-H Teen Council and has helped coordinate teen activities at the fair.

"I have gained so much self-confidence through competing in the different contests and giving speeches," she said. "All the beneficial experiences helped me overcome my shyness."

The club became a Kent family project when, at her daughter's suggestion,Donna Kent took on the job of leader three years ago. Her father, Richard, often lends advice and help on projects, too.

"Mandy dragged me in," said her mother. "There's a lot of preparation and work involved for leaders but she is a tremendous help."

Debbie Tasto, 16,Clovers president this year, also said Mandy is willing to lend a hand with any and all projects.

"4-H offers so many different thingsto do," Mandy said. "You can pick and choose from a variety of projects to suit your interests and take on as many of those as you like."

She has learned from each project, and has developed her cooking and planting skills in the club.

"Club activities take time," she said. "The more involved you get, though, the more you get out of it."

The citizenship project seemed the most natural for Mandy to tackle for the statewide competition, she said.

"I focused on government, an interest I have had since I was much younger," she said.

Her work with the March of Dimes introduced Mandy to many local and state politicians. She and Gov. William Donald Schaefer became friends and "sailing buddies" after he invited her and the rest of the club members aboard his yacht, the Maryland Independence.

She included accounts of her tours of the County Office Building and the State House in her record book. The project also involved hours of library research on the American flag and how a bill becomes a law. She conductedher own experiment as well, a survey of friends and family.

"I gave the immigration test to several American citizens," she said. "A lot of people who have lived in this country all their lives don't know as much as immigrants have to learn to earn citizenship."

With the exception of a week working as a counselor at the 4-H Camp at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center, she and the rest of the Clovers have devoted most of July to preparing their booth at the fair. This year's entry features a tribute to Operation Desert Storm troops.

"Fair week is our busiest time," she said. "I usually stay all dayevery day, working wherever I am needed."

Keeping busy doesn't bother Mandy. After spending many days "stuck in hospitals," following several operations, she shuns inactivity.

"As long as I feel well,I want to do all this stuff," she said. "I don't want to sit in the house and vegetate."

She sees 4-H in her future, as well as college, law school and maybe politics.

"I would start at the local level," she smiled. "Maybe run for town council."

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