Kerr turns tragedy into helping others

While most college students spent their summers working and hanging out with friends, Kaitlyn Kerr ’16 was busy helping the next generation of Indiana farmers avoid injuries and fatalities.

In addition to organizing a special farm safety program at the Franklin County Fair in July, Kerr has accepted a one-year appointment as the Farm Safety Just for Kids Outreach Coordinator for Indiana. Beginning January 2014, she will teach young people and their families around the state about farm safety in the hope of preventing accidents.

It’s a cause that’s holds a special significance for the sophomore, ever since her brother, Kyle, died in a tragic accident on her family’s farm in Cedar Grove, Ind. During harvest season back in 2010, the younger sibling fell into a semi-trailer full or corn and suffocated to death.

He was just 13 at the time.

“From that day on my life and (that of) my family was turned upside down,” said Kerr. “I knew I couldn't sit back and just soak in the loss of my brother, I knew I had to get out there and spread the word to children and adults about the dangers of farming.”

Earlier this year, she contacted Farm Safety for Just Kids, a nonprofit organization based in Iowa that educates youth and their families about farm safety. With their help, Kerr gave a presentation at her county fair this summer, and conducted a farm safety game show for children. She joined the program not long afterward as an outreach coordinator, a position she’ll hold throughout 2014.

Kerr’s duties will include traveling all over Indiana conducting farm safety presentations and demonstrations at county fairs, town festivals, schools, day-cares, safety days, 4-H and FFA meetings, and other venues.

Nearly two million youth live and work on farms in the U.S., and as many as 22,000 are seriously injured; about 100 children and teens die each year due to farm-related injuries. Although she realizes the impact she could have might be small, Kerr is dedicated to the mission of farm safety.

“I want kids to know that this doesn't mean they have to stop helping their dad or even their neighbor on the farm,” she said. “It just means that they need to be aware of the dangers associated with farming. Most importantly I want to be able to save a life and not let another family go through such a tragic experience like my family has.”

The Kerr family started a scholarship in Kyle Kerr’s name in 2011, with funds earned from auctioning a pig donated by an area farmer.  Community support continued with donations for a silent auction at a benefit breakfast the family hosted. The scholarship goes to a senior graduating from Franklin County High School who previously attended Mount Carmel Elementary (which Kyle Kerr attended) and/or is a member of 4-H.

“People from the community to this day still donate to Kyle's scholarship on his birthday, on his anniversary, and even just randomly,” said Kerr. “We hope to continue giving out this scholarship for many years to come.”