Students help injured classmate continue project

By Nancy Gutierrez

In November The Exeter Sun did a story on an ambitious and dedicated high school student who started a business project through the Exeter Ag Department. In July 2003 Donald Willis bought 300 young pheasants to raise and later sell for a profit. He, along with his dad, Gary, bought supplies and built a pen at the ag farm to house the birds. He successfully raised and sold most of his project, making a tidy profit. He did so well that Donald decided he was going to increase the amount of birds for his next project.

Then, on Nov. 29, Donald was injured in a hunting accident. He was accidentally shot in the leg with a shotgun and was hospitalized for several weeks. Donald is out of the hospital but must use crutches to get around and has four future surgeries to undergo before he can even begin to start walking on the leg again. He has not returned to school, but visits the ag farm for a few hours each day.

After an injury like that many people, and more importantly, many teenagers would have held off on continuing a project like Donald's. But Donald's vision of expanding his ag project never ceased and, with the unexpected help of good friends and his own determination, he was able to continue.

For the last two weeks students like Justin Florez, Tyler Baker and Josh Carr have picked up where Donald left off. They are working to expand the pen that was used to hold the 300 pheasant Donald had in November.

He sold most of the 300 and has 910 chicks ordered for shipment to Exeter in May. The three boys, along with all of the students in a fourth period ag class, are busy doubling the size of the previous pen to house the 910 new birds.

Before the accident Donald started building pens, complete with an irrigation system, to breed birds and hatch-out his own stock of pheasant. The students helped to finish that project and clean out the area to make room for the new shipment. Gary also said they will be converting an old greenhouse into a bird pen. Florez and Baker started helping after school and during their free time without prompts from their teachers or incentives from Gary.

"He's my friend, I've known him since I was in pre-school," Florez said. "I'm going to help him until it's all finished."

Florez also volunteered to show some of Donald's birds at the tulare county fair.

"It's great to see students giving their time to help another student," ag teacher Kelly Leal said.

With so many students pitching in, the facility should be finished by the time the next shipment of pheasant come in, but Donald and his dad aren't sure if the space will be big enough.

"I hope the facility will hold all of the birds," Donald said.

The high school farm wasn't equipped with an area for poultry. Donald, with his dad's help built the first pen from scratch and paid the $72 license fee required by the state to raise a large amount of birds. However, with increasing interest in raising pheasant from other students, the teachers at the ag department are looking into building a permanent area to house poultry.

"More attention needs to be paid to this facility. It should be a vital part of the educational process," Gary said. "This place made my son fall in love with school. It should be a working ag farm so these kids can get involved in school."

For now Donald must depend on the willingness of his friends and fellow ag students in building an area for the poultry unit.

"I think the thing he hates the most is that he's not out there doing it himself," Gary said.

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