Skills, scares and scholarships at Ozaukee County 4-H’s The Haunt

Turning a dairy barn into a haunted venue “that will get your heart pounding and your skin crawling” takes planning, people and panache – all attributes that Ozaukee County’s 4-H brings to this event that’s in its 12th year.

Each year, Ozaukee County 4-H takes over the Cedarburg fairgrounds’ show arena and dairy and horse barns. Seventy-five youth and adults volunteer nightly during the three Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Halloween. This crew includes 35 actors, a dozen makeup artists, and handful of volunteers each for ticketing, parking, security, a fall-themed concession stand, volunteer management and, of course, a 4-H promotion booth.

“It’s a great way for youth to learn,” said Kathy Butler, Ozaukee County 4-H Youth Development educator. “We have some youth who sign up for the theater arts project and then they can use their activities from The Haunt at the County Fair, whether it’s writing a script, learning theatrical make-up or designing costumes.”

Young volunteers can also pick up skills in construction, set painting, electrical work and marketing through The Haunt, Butler said.

And, of course, the leadership and teamwork that are a hallmark of 4-H life skills lessons come into play. Another important detail is security, including training volunteers on safely assisting and escorting visitors who’ve had enough fright for the night out of The Haunt.

Youth volunteers in 8th grade and older are actors inside the buildings during business hours. Outside, a dozen or so 3rd-7th grade “ghoulies” creep around the waiting area and escort groups of six through the doorway for their 10-15 minutes of fright.

The Haunt is a year-round effort by Ozaukee County 4-H Clubs. A 20-member committee of primarily adults sits at the helm, meeting once a month year-round to plan everything from theme to renting portable restrooms. Building begins Sept. 1, with volunteers working from 5-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, as well as 8 a.m.-noon and beyond on Saturdays for six weeks. After the holiday, volunteers spend another month cleaning up and packing two semi trailers with props, equipment and building materials.

Tickets for The Haunt are $15 each; a portion of the proceeds are distributed to participating 4-H clubs based their members participation in the project and higher education scholarships for The Haunt volunteers. The remaining money goes to the county’s 4-H Leaders Associations to help fund educational travel, summer camps and other county-wide activities.

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