For most teens, the prospect of helping organize the youth exhibits, contests and programs offered at next week’s Chowan County Regional Fair, represents a year-long commitment that few students would be eager to take on.
But for 17-year-old Amber Seymour, president of the Junior Fair Board, it’s not just a labor of love. In her family, it’s a rite of passage.
Seymour’s granddad, E.C. Toppin, is manager and president of the Chowan County Regional Fair Board. He’s in charge of the five-day event, which runs from Sept. 25-29, and before him, Seymour’s great-granddad held the same role.
“He mentored me,” said Toppin, who is in his 41st year with the Fair. He jokingly refers to the annual event as a “family affair fair.”
Seymour’s grandmother is secretary of the Fair Board and the teenager’s mom also helps set up the event, held on the American Legion Fairgrounds in Edenton every year.
“I love doing it,” said Seymour, a senior at John A. Holmes High School. “I feel like it’s a family thing I need to keep going.”
Seymour also served on the Junior Fair Board last year, when the Chowan County Regional Fair won the Youth Award for 2011. That news, she said, was especially gratifying.
“It’s a big honor to have that,” Seymour said. “I felt like we had done a lot at the fair last year to give it more variety.”
The award is also a testament to the record number of youth that were involved with last year’s event – either as volunteers or as participants who had taken part in the Fair’s youth exhibits. Toppin estimates there were about 350 youth exhibitors that participated in last year’s fair.
“It was a little more than what we’d been having,” Toppin said, adding that all the youth participation was no accident. “A lot of it has to do with the 4-H leadership and their encouragement of the kids to participate,” he said.
For the past several years, Beth Stanley, 4-H agent with the Chowan County Cooperative Extension office, has been responsible for getting youth volunteers involved.
The kids have all come to know her, Stanley said, through her work with different grade levels at school. Stanley’s hard work is paying off. This year, “The Albemarle’s Got Talent” performance – a talent show and fair favorite scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. – will have 24 students participating. The number doubled from last year.
“It’s the fact that they see us and now they’re starting to put that together with the fair,” Stanley said, explaining the increase in the fair’s youth involvement.
Seymour said the Junior Fair Board has also tried to encourage youth participation in the event, recruiting students from other schools and home-schooled students. The Junior Fair Board even brainstormed some new events, like Thursday night’s Newly Wed and Not So Newly Wed Game, a contest that will feature three prominent Edenton couples. And the Junior Fair Board is also bringing back a few popular fundraisers - having photos taken in front of fun backdrops like a carousel and Ferris wheel and selling Chowan County Fair t-shirts designed by the Junior Fair Board members.
Other events sponsored by the Junior Fair Board include a pumpkin decorating contest and a corn hole tournament which will both be held Saturday afternoon. One of the Junior Fair Board’s annual events, the Farmer for a Day program, will be held Tuesday through Saturday.
“We actually have a lot of little kids do it,” Seymour said, adding that the program is one of the most popular events for kids at the Fair.
“It’s just a little scenario where kids can milk a wooden cow, dig for potatoes, pick an egg from under a stuffed chicken or pick a wooden apple off a tree,” Seymour added.
Children receive stickers for completing the tasks.
If all that’s not enough to keep the younger set busy at the fair, this year there will also be camel rides and an exotic petting zoo – complete with monkeys, parrots and camels – to keep them entertained.
“I don’t think many fairs around here have the animals you’ll see in there,” Seymour said. “It will be something new for people to enjoy.”
Even the number of students serving on the Junior Fair Board has increased over the past year. Typically, the committee has about 10 students who serve on the group. But this year, 15 students took part in organizing the events.
“We’re actually growing as a Junior Fair Board,” Seymour said. “We haven’t had this many in a while.”
Although the student volunteers have a Junior Fair Board advisor, Ashley Misseri, who helps keep the monthly meetings on track, she said the gatherings are directed by the students.
“These kids work hard all year-round to do this,” Misseri said. “The kids are completely in charge of the meetings. They’re all so hard-working and come up with their own ideas.”
In addition to last year’s Youth Award, the Chowan County Regional Fair also earned the Image Award for best medium-size fair in the state in 2011. It’s the third time in five years Chowan has won the Image Award.
The award is a testament to the work of the 150 volunteers who help organize the event each year. Each year, they transform 27 fairground acres into an award-winning regional fair that draws between 15,000 to 40,000 attendees.
“We’re in the medium bracket which is probably the largest bracket,” said John Chilcoat, vice-president of the Fair Board, referring to the Image Award. “We try to win every year, but we always have a nice fair. I’ll put ours up against anybody else’s.”
It’s the community involvement, Toppin said, that sets the Chowan County Regional Fair apart from its competition.
“We just try to support the community,” Toppin said.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s just a big community service project.”
Rita Frankenberry is a correspondent for The Daily Advance