Local 4-H club overcomes adversity to show animals at Santa Barbara County Fair

Students endured fire, mudslide and loss of leader

Local 4H club overcomes adversity to show animals at Santa Barbara County Fair

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Playa Del Sur 4-H club is happy to be showing their animals at the Santa Barbara County Fair.

Several months ago, the small Carpinteria-based group wasn't sure they would be able to attend.

"We're lucky to be here right now," said Playa Del Sur member Jenny Alaniz. "We were able to overcome the challenges and we're here."

The 13-member group has over great adversity since last December, when it faced the first of three difficult obstacles.

"At first we had the Thomas Fire," said Alaniz. "We evacuated our animals."

Alaniz explained the club's home ranch was at a nursery in the Carpinteria area.

With the fire threatening the property, the livestock, including one heifer, six steers and five sheep, were moved to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.

Afterwards, the animals returned, but had to be hastily evacuated again on the night of January 8 due to the threat of a mudslide.

Within hours of moving the animals, their worst fears were realized when mud came crashing through the property.

"We went to the farm and we had absolutely nothing left," said Alaniz on her reaction to seeing the ranch on January 9. "The mud came over the creek and completely flooded our area. The mudslide took away our tack house. In there, we held all our tools, all our feed, our generator, everything, we had everything in there."

The disaster claimed up to $20,000 of equipment and feed. It was basically everything the club owned.

"It was completely devastating," Alaniz said. "I didn't know if we were going to rebuild. We didn't even know if we would make it to fair. We're lucky to be here right now."

Soon after, word spread about what the group endured. An outpouring of community support rallied behind the club.

"We got money from all over the place trying to help us out," said student Karla Marin. "It felt nice because it showed that people do care even though we are a small group."

Donations rolled in from local businesses, clubs, organizations and individuals.

"Our club is really thankful for them," said group member Elizabeth Estrada. "I think if it wasn't for all of their support, we wouldn't be where we are right now. I don't know if we would have made it to fair without all of the support."

Backed by the financial assistance, as well as construction help, Playa Del Sur was able to rebuild its facility.

"It took a lot of teamwork and patience and a lot of hard work," said Marin. "We would spent hours at our ranch to fix everything."

With everything on track, the students faced another unexpected challenge when group leader Ron Vieira suffered a heart attack just days before the start of the fair.

"Not having our main leader here to try and guide us and help us out has been really tough," said said Alaniz. 

All group members said Vieira is extremely organized and always plans out each day.

"Not having him here has been hard because we've had to figure out how to get our animals here," Estrada said. "We had to get help from other people. Having him not here has not been easy."

According to the students, Vieria is hoping to travel to Santa Maria and attend the fair over the weekend.

"I think we made him proud," Estrada said. "All of our animals made it through."

While Playa Del Sur captured several ribbons during the fair, they all know just getting here and competing was victory itself.

It's also something they likely won't ever forget.

"Hopefully we can continue to do this for many years," said Estrada. "I think we got through this pretty well."

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