A sense of unity fell over the crowd of 4-H families and businesses when Big Sky High graduate Mathalia Stroethoff, 19, stepped into the sale ring at the Western Montana Fair livestock auction on Saturday morning.
Mathalia, a first-time FFA member who has Down syndrome, sold her goat Kanga three times – to Missoula McDonald’s, Hamilton Physical Therapy and Schultz Autobody, earning more than $2,000.
Her parents, fellow FFA members, advisers and spectators watched with teary eyes as she walked around the ring with a big smile on her face, clearly proud of all the work she put into her goat’s upbringing.
“It was great because she’s worked so hard for it,” agricultural education teacher and FFA adviser Tom Andres said. “She has to work harder than most people. I think she and her mom worked two to three hours a day on her project.”
Mathalia’s mother, Janet Stroethoff, was overcome with emotion after the sale.
“I’m so grateful,” she said. “Grateful to the whole community. It’s a huge gift. But the whole year has been a huge gift.”
Last August, when it was being decided which classes Mathalia would take for her senior year of high school, she expressed to her mother that she wanted to take agricultural education.
So they went to the FFA pig roast to see what exactly the course entailed, and it was then that Andres told Janet that it was great for anyone to have an animal to take care of. And Mathalia began her career in FFA.
“We have to remember that she’s been so well supported by the FFA family,” Janet said. “They taught us, helped us, and showed us what to do because at that point we really had no idea. They were there from the beginning.”
Mathalia’s FFA family members were just as emotional as Janet after the sale, still trying to comprehend what had happened in the sale ring.
“I’m trying to put words together,” Big Sky senior Abby Bardwick said. “I’m just so proud to have seen the community pull together.”
Mathalia raised two goats, a sheep, and chickens. Janet says their family will try to keep chickens so that Mathalia has something to keep her working in agriculture.
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“She was out there every day,” FFA member Gyen Smith said. “She’s just such a sweet person. She would walk her goat every day.”
Eventually all the walking paid off. The goat had been named Kanga originally because it was so jumpy. By walking it every day, Mathalia established a relationship with the animal, and it was no longer startled by her. Janet said they ended up working well together as a team.
“I definitely feel like our entire chapter is really proud,” Big Sky senior Courtney Hemphill said. “I hope FFA has opened her eyes to what she can do.”
As a graduation gift, Mathalia’s grandparents gave her a trip to Guatemala to help build houses with a team associated with Casas por Cristo. Janet explained that Mathalia loved the experience, and wants to do it again.
“All kids, with disabilities or not should be able to have this experience of helping other people from a different place,” she said.
Janet hopes that Mathalia will be able to use her money from FFA to go back to Guatemala to build more houses.
“I don’t know anyone else who is using their money to do something like that,” Bardwick said.
Mathalia’s father, Karel Stroethoff, was speechless after his daughter’s success in the sale ring.
“It’s great,” he said. “She’s got lots and lots of support.”
Janet said Mathalia has also taken violin lessons and participated in swimming at Big Sky, but FFA was especially wonderful because it was something her siblings had never done, and therefore a hobby to call her own.
“One thing is it shows us that FFA is for students of any ability level,” Andres said. “It shows students to be thankful for what they have. I was really happy for Mathalia to be able to take an animal to the fair. We’re pretty lucky to have a school farm, also.”