BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — For the first time since 2019, thousands of kids have the opportunity Saturday to see and ride on heavy construction and farming equipment, all for a good cause.

The 18th annual Day of the Dozer at McLean County Fairgrounds on Saturday puts kids into the driver’s seat. They get to drive bulldozers, excavators, backhoes, and other heavy equipment provided by Stark Excavating, a local site development company.

“Tomorrow is a great day for kids to have some good dirty fun…It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about future jobs in the construction trades, and I’m certain this has inspired a lot of kids to do just that.,” said Liz Skinner, public relations director for Great Plains Life Foundation, a local non-profit that brings the charitable efforts of labor, trades, and management together.

Proceeds will benefit Stay 4, an initiative set forth by Great Plains that financially and emotionally enables low income students at high risk of dropping out of high school to graduate and go on to college, trade school or the military.

“Stay 4 offers them a soft hand on their back to let them know there are people out there who care, that want them to be successful and encourage them towards that success,” said Skinner.

Gabrielle Kaeb, a Illinois State University senior participating in Stay 4, said the financial and emotional support has been invaluable.

“Paul and Liz have really just been there. They check in on me all the time, ask how I’m doing. They’ve bought all my books for me through the grant, its been really good,” she said.

Participating high schools select students during their junior year that are at high risk of dropping out but have potential to succeed. Students must maintain a 2.5 GPA, participate in extracurricular activities and volunteer in the community.

“Many of them face tremendous challenges. In fact, it’s surprising a number of them are the major breadwinner in their families when they’re going to high school and work 30-40 hours a week,” said Skinner.

Skinner said the organization has help more than 500 high school students from Central Illinois. She said 97% complete high school and more than half go on to college, trade school or military.

“It’s very motivating. It inspires us to keep working hard and its very rewarding to see the success they have achieved,” she said.

Day of the Dozer is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets cost $6 online and $7 at the door for kids. Adults are free. Everyone also gets a souvenir hard hat.