By Ron Lynch, former Cissna Park FFA advisor
After teaching and advising for the FFA chapter in Waterman, Ill., for five years, I had the opportunity to move and take over the Cissna Park FFA chapter. Cissna Park was in need of help at the time and stood just one teacher away from closing.
I was fortunate during my first year as advisor of my new chapter that several students were also great young leaders. They bought into my goals for the chapter, and we found success very quickly. Cissna Park was soon winning proficiency awards and sending members to the Illinois FFA State Convention to receive their state degrees. Within a few years, we were recognized as one of the top 20 chapters in Illinois.
Obviously, I was proud of the awards my students were winning. But I knew that sustaining and growing the chapter would require more help. I looked to the Cissna Park community to take us to the next level.
A small school, Cissna Park never had more than 150 high school students during the entirety of my 28 years there. The community wasn’t much larger – around 850 people – but the business district was strong. Working together with just eight individuals from the community, we started the Cissna Park FFA Alumni affiliate because we all believed in the need to give our students the support they needed to keep the program moving forward. Soon we had established a scholarship program for graduating FFA members and added several fundraising activities to make attending state and national leadership events possible. The local FFA Alumni also assisted in another big way: Preparing and helping FFA members whenever they needed it, whether helping with practice interviews or getting FFA members to various events across the state. It was more than I could have ever dreamed working as the school’s only agriculture teacher.
Eight years after I began at Cissna Park, our chapter received the ultimate honor in the state as we accepted the Illinois Bankers Plaque that celebrates the state’s top FFA chapter over the previous year. Through the help of the FFA Alumni affiliate, Cissna Park earned the award three more times before I retired in 2011. I’m proud to say Cissna Park is the only FFA chapter with a single-teacher agricultural education program to win the top chapter award in Illinois since 1977. We were also recognized as a national Model of Innovation chapter seven times.
FFA Alumni allowed my FFA chapter and community to come together for our FFA members. They had more opportunity, learned more skills and got to see the payoff of hard work thanks to the resources the FFA Alumni brought to Cissna Park.