Summer program pairs kids and calves

By Nancy Carver Singleton | August 31, 2022

Dean Hopkins and Debbie Norman run Kid-n-Calf, which teaches youngsters like Billy Branscum, 12, of Whitewater to raise calves.

FURLEY — A program that introduces children to the responsibilities and rewards of caring for calves is back after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.

Kid-n-Calf provided six children between the ages of 8 and 12 with calves this summer. On Saturday mornings from late May through mid-August, they learned to take care of the calves on a farm here with help from volunteers.

“It is a tremendous benefit for someone to have a calf that they would never have otherwise,” said Sid Nattier, a Newton cattleman and farmer active in the effort. “There is just something about a calf and the opportunity to care of it.”

Not to mention a financial payoff when the calves are sold. Proceeds go into a fund that the youths can tap into for things like eyeglasses, braces, college tuition and textbooks, sports camps and more. Several teens have used it to buy cars to get to their first jobs.

More than 150 youngsters have taken part in Kid-n-Calf since it started in 2007. The idea for it came to Dean Hopkins, who grew up here, while he was mowing the yard one day. He shared it with Nattier and Debbie Norman of Wichita, his fellow board members in a nonprofit, nondenominational organization called Gospel of Grace Ministries.

The children come from a number of area communities, referred by former participants, neighbors, school administrators and others. Many are being raised by single parents or guardians. There are no age limits and no fees.

Hopkins buys most of the calves with money donated by area farmers. He and Nattier care for the calves between visits by the youngsters, while Norman handles administrative duties.

Additionally, Hopkins said, “We have some amazing volunteers. We could not do it without them because it is pretty labor intensive.” Often lending a hand are former Kid-n-Calf participants, who are called ambassadors. “It also gives us a way to keep in contact with them.”

A Kid-n-Calf Olympics in July is one highlight of the program, featuring a bottle chugging contest for the calves and an evaluation of the youngsters’ knowledge, skills and showmanship by a cattle judge. Each child receives a ribbon or medal. 

A graduation ceremony was held Aug. 13 in connection with a concert held in a barn at the farm. Hopkins and Norman, both longtime musicians, started the concerts as a fundraiser for the program 14 years ago. There are two more scheduled for this year, on Sept. 10 and Oct. 8. 

Hopkins, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, is familiar to many area music fans as a member of the Ark Valley Boys from 1980 to 1993, when the band toured the Midwest opening for performers such as Jerry Reed and Ricky Skaggs. He met Norman through the Sunflower State Gospel Association. In the late 1990s, the two formed a music ministry with their spouses that was focused on helping prisoners transition into society. But Hopkins admits to becoming discouraged.

“What we found is a lot of times it is a revolving door, and a lot of the time it is hard to stop them reverting to the behavior that put them there in the first place,” he said. “That is when God put in our hearts that if we could reach youth before they have become a part of the (criminal justice) system, that is when they could really benefit.”

Their band, Isiah, includes Linsey Cutsinger on drums, Carl Williams on bass and Lonnie Dreyer on vocals. The barn where they perform was built by Hopkins’ father in 1949. A stage, cement floor and photographs of western film and music stars were added to turn it into a venue. “A lot of people have come just to see the barn,” Hopkins said.

And also to support Kid-n-Calf, of course. Hopkins said the difference it makes in youngsters’ lives is gratifying to see.

“Their self-esteem was higher and their self-worth improved because they’re learning how to do something new in taking care of their calves and they are making new relationships in their lives.”

Contact Nancy Carver Singleton at


Concerts in the Barn

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 and Saturday, Oct. 8

Where: 9222 N. 143rd St. E., rural Benton

Admission: Donation.

Doors open at 6 p.m. There are free concessions and hayrack rides.