By Beth A. DeHoff
It has happened to too many teens – distracted by a text, call or passenger, they miss a light, take a turn too fast, or don’t notice an approaching car. It’s a scenario that the high school members of Yelm FFA are determined to make far less common, as they educate hundreds of students and community members in a variety of activities as part of “Project Tornado: Destroying Bad Driving Habits.” It’s an effort that’s more than just good work – it’s an excellent example of community development.
That’s just one of a number of efforts of Yelm FFA, which earned the top Model of Innovation award in community development at the 2010 National FFA Convention. In their small community, students also work with the chamber of commerce, Lions Club and area businesses to host and help with several community events; offer services such as tree donations and landscaping; and participate in projects such as a corn pilot project, egg project, and more. “We’ve built our whole chapter on the idea of community development,” Mike Patrick of Yelm High School in Washington said. “That’s where kids can get the most involved and where you can impact the most people.”
Yelm’s list of activities reveals a commitment to all five areas of the FFA Model of Innovation community development award (economic development, environmental, human resources/ community welfare, citizenship and agricultural awareness activities). “Being highly visible in the community has built over time, and in return, the community is very supportive of our kids,” Patrick said. “When we went to national convention, I was overwhelmed by how much was donated to help kids make that trip. It was amazing.”
Yelm uses the financial and practical support of an alumni chapter that helps with anything from hauling supplies to purchasing food to chaperoning a state convention trip. Spencer High School in central Wisconsin also depends on its alumni chapter. “Whenever we need workers to help with our activities, our alumni core grows to a great number of people to help with the task,” said Mark Zimmerman, a 22-year veteran teacher at Spencer. “Right now we’re working on presenting farm technology days in the community, and our alumni group is sponsoring a food tent there.” The alumni also sponsor a fifth- and sixth-grade community basketball fundraiser. The Spencer chapter also partners with the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for Christmas activities that serve the community’s citizens who are elderly and disabled and that give elementary students a chance to purchase and give gifts.
Zimmerman says that a close relationship with the local chamber of commerce has been a key aspect of Spencer’s community development activities. “We have FFA officers who attend chamber meetings every month. We’re the only youth group in town that gives a report each month to the chamber,” he says. “We always look for ways to be a leader in community service.”
Holdredge FFA in Nebraska is another 2010 Model of Innovation winner in community development, an honor the chapter also received in 2009. One notable recent project was a “tester well project,” in which community members brought in well water samples for nitrate testing. The chapter also runs a children’s farm safety camp, reaching every kindergarten and first grade student in the county. “We just work to get the word out about what we can do and look for ways to get kids involved in the community,” said Jeff Moore, the chapter’s advisor and teacher.
Patrick suggests teachers look for community development opportunities in the needs of the community. “Doing good work in the community is how you impact kids. It’s on these activities that you have a chance to teach all sorts of things – how to organize and run an activity, make contacts, network,” he said. “See what you can do to impact what’s going on in your community. Build partners in the community and get involved in their events. If you do that with consistency, community development can be the lifeblood of your program.”