The Best Feeling in the World

Harrison Czapalay from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia was three when he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Loud noises were particularly scary to him, and so was meeting new people; not to mention making eye contact. Twenty-two years later, Harrison has come a long way. Every year, he raises funds for the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia and Acadia’s S.M.I.L.E. (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program through co-ordinating Wolfville’s annual Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness events. He credits a lot of his success to 4-H.

4-H Canada – Hi Harrison! You’ve been in 4-H for eight years. How has it helped you overcome some of your challenges?
Harrison – The biggest impact from 4-H has been on my public speaking skills. When you speak to an audience, you need to have the eye contact with the judge and the crowd, scan the room to make sure the audience is paying attention, and not talk too fast. Now, I can talk at a comfortable pace. I’ve led numerous 4-h groups talking about public speaking. I’ve also received an award to go to the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CSYA)’s competition at the Royal Agriculture Winter Fair in Toronto two years ago. I was shocked when they called my name and I won. It was the best feeling in the world.

4-H Canada – You were an assistant dairy leader for a couple of years, and this year you are an assistant leader for the Eastern Kings 4-H club Whitehorse project. What are you hoping to pass on to your 4-H members?
Harrison –
 I want to teach the kids that even if they have a disability, they can still join 4-H at any age. It’s all about overcoming boundaries. I’ve never thought in my entire life that I would be successful in public speaking. Take someone like Temple Grandin, for example. She is a role model for me. She worked with the livestock industry on animal behavior, and she had autism. Showing livestock can be intimidating too. I am advocating for the autism community, but I’m also telling 4-H kids what they need to hear to get out of their comfort zone, and achieve great things.

4-H Canada – In your opinion, how can 4-H clubs better support youth members with autism?
Harrison – 
You’ve got to have the right leaders. The way some leaders teach kids how to show a dairy cow takes my breath away. They take their time to be with these kids, and I like to be in that role too. Also, if anyone out there wants to learn about autism or get more kids involved, they can also reach out to me!