The National Quality Program Standards for Secondary Agricultural Education (NQPS) call for school and community partners to engage in developing and supporting quality agricultural education. They set an expectation that volunteers and community partners understand the goals, objectives, activities and accomplishments of agriculture education programs.
So, how do volunteers and community partners come together in an organized way in support of achieving the dynamic goals of agriculture education?
“The most important thing a state or local council can do is understand their purpose and who they are serving,” says Diane Amera, National Alumni Council President-Elect. “By looking at the demographics, what’s available, what’s working well and what is needed, we can determine how to serve and improve.”
Amera suggests that local organizations can learn by looking into what councils do in other states. There are many examples of successful leadership and implementation. Councils can benefit from the successes and experiences of one another.
Time and talent assessment
“National FFA Alumni Councils can also benefit from conducting a time and talent inventory of their volunteers,” explains Amera. “If we don’t know an individual’s information, we are missing an opportunity to bring them in as a speaker, to ask them to assist with a judging contest or support chaperoning.”
Amera suggests that teachers, community partners and volunteers need to be trained to talk with one another to understand what each person has to offer and where their talents might be used. All too often, people who want to be a part of something that’s positive get shot down because their idea is outside of the realm of what’s been done in the past. “We need to be sure that our FFA volunteers are trained to listen to one another and to see that there are important elements in everything people offer.”
High value volunteering
People volunteer because they find value in what they are doing. For many, that value comes in the form of active engagement in the organization; for others it is shaped in the knowledge of impact on young lives; and for some it is about having the capacity to give back.
“No matter the reason, volunteers need to be invested in the initiative and finding value in what they do,” explains Amera. “The best volunteer engagement connects people’s time and talents and recognizes what each person brings to the table.” People want to be asked and have a purpose when they volunteer their time.
Effective state council approaches
The Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association State Council offers an example of effective strategies. With by-laws, a membership policy and strong organizational approaches, the group supports their community and agriculture educators. The council hosts a very effective state FFA alumni convention that includes learning opportunities focused on agricultural education goals. The convention also brings together community partners such as agricultural education leaders, the executive director of the foundation and leadership from across the state in support of building strong connections and relationships.
“The biggest thing councils can do is insure that they provide quality programs and services,” said Amera. “Connected volunteers feel good about themselves. How we perceive ourselves and are engaged in true community service is what FFA is all about.”