This time of year, a lot of moms have pumpkins on their to-do list. But that line item is especially big for 4-H leader, mom and photographer Paula Sapp. In the town of Lake Placid, her 4-H club, the Lake Placid Clovers, runs the annual pumpkin patch top to tail.
It's the fourth or fifth year we've done it, Sapp mentioned. Every year the 4-H kids and their parents help Sapp and her husband sell pumpkins, hot dogs and baked goods while also providing a free fall photo opportunity, face painting, games and more.
Pumpkins range from $3 for small ones to $25 for a colossal specimen. The proceeds from the event go towards the club's service efforts throughout the year. This year, the pumpkin patch takes place in Stuart Park in downtown Lake Placid on Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"We focus on community service," said Sapp, of the Lake Placid Clovers, which currently has 45 members and is the only 4-H club in Lake Placid. Every year, the kids ages 5 to 18 dress up in costumes and hand out candy at nursing homes on Halloween, decorate over 100 doors for Christmas at Lake Placid Health Care Center, deliver meals to the needy at Easter and more.
"It's so much fun. They love it," said Sapp of both the kids and the elderly residents at the nursing homes they visit. She said last year the kids spent over an hour in the Alzheimers unit of a local care facility. "They were playing beach balls with the Alzheimers patients. The people just came alive! The kids didn't want to leave," she recalled.
Most of the money from the pumpkin patch goes back into the community in the form of meals for needy families in Lake Placid, said Sapp, who collaborates with Publix and mobilizes a convoy of 4-H parents and kids to wrap and deliver the food.
Sapp explained that she started the club as a community service club because she wanted "to teach the kids that we've all been blessed and we should share that by blessing others and helping others out that may be having a hard time right now."
Of course, the kids get to raise their animals and do their 4-H projects as well. Sapp's son, 12-year-old Layton and her daughter, 10-year-old Lindsay, are raising pigs this year. The little pink porkers were already out in the barn next to one of the family's horses, their pet wild hog Macie, whom they've had since she was a baby, and a menagerie of chickens, dogs, rabbits and cats.
Sapp didn't grow up in agriculture and she didn't do 4-H as a child, although she is a native of Lake Placid.
"I've always had a passion for animals, and when I met my husband he was a cowboy, and that got me in further," said the blond mom, wearing her green 4-H T-shirt and a long ponytail stuffed through the back of her cap.
Her second passion is outdoor photography, where she takes personalized photos of families, kids, pets, events and more through her business, Paula Sapp Photography.
Highlands County 4-H extension agent Lauren Hrncirik stated that Sapp is valuable as a 4-H leader because she's a big help with the fair, is the go-to person for families who are showing hogs or pigs, and has a "well-rounded" club.
"She really does a good job at empowering her teens and her children and parents to get involved and to explore different projects and to exhibit good sportsmanship skills," Hrncirik remarked.
This year's club is the biggest so far, and Sapp said it has come full circle with her small members getting ready to graduate and a new crop of little ones coming on board. She said her favorite part of being a leader is watching the kids grow, develop into leaders and evolve out of their shyness.
"It is amazing how 4-H can pull that out of kids and the leaders they become. They really, truly become leaders," Sapp admired.