Lift ‘Em Up!
The 250-member Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter proves there really is strength in numbers, and FFA involvement doesn’t have to end when school does.
Established in 1975 as one of the first alumni chapters in Kansas, the chapter supports the Washington County FFA, which comprises approximately 70 members who attend Washington County High School (WCHS) in Washington, Kan. The alumni chapter assists with fundraising efforts, chaperones events, serves as an advisory committee – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Our FFA alumni are unbelievable,” says John Kern, Washington County FFA advisor and WCHS agriculture science teacher. “Many of our alumni chapter members help us plan and implement our career pathway programs, and they help with several of the activities we do throughout the year. They are a major part of what we do; I don’t know where we would be without all of their help and support.”
As a result, it comes as no surprise that the Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter was honored by the National FFA Alumni Association as 2016’s Outstanding FFA Alumni Chapter.
“Any time you win anything nationally, it’s pretty exciting,” says Tim Zenger, who serves as president of both the Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter and the Kansas FFA Alumni Association. “It was a major accomplishment for us, and it was validating to see the work we do for the kids be recognized.”
Alumni Pay It Forward
Designed to acknowledge FFA alumni chapters for their exceptional accomplishments and to encourage other alumni chapters to strive for excellence, the Outstanding FFA Alumni Chapter award is given annually at the National FFA Convention & Expo. All eligible alumni chapters are invited to apply for the award each year, and the winning chapter receives a plaque and a $200 Shop FFA gift card to help provide supplies and materials for future events and programs.
Rod Stewart currently serves as the Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter treasurer and accepted the award at the 89th National FFA Convention & Expo with his wife, Kannette. He says winning was a huge shock, and it was ultimately just icing on the proverbial cake for the chapter.
“We fill out award applications because they help our FFA members qualify for scholarships to the Washington Leadership Conference (WLC) in D.C.,” Stewart says. “It’s important that we show we are an active alumni chapter in order for FFA members to receive scholarships, so that’s really why we apply. We never plan on winning, but receiving this kind of recognition is truly appreciated.”
Kern says the award is also well deserved, and he believes many of the alumni chapters’ members maintain such a high level of involvement due to a desire to pass on what they’ve learned through FFA. In short, they’re paying it forward, resulting in a win-win for everyone.
“Many of our alumni chapter members were leaders in FFA when they were in school, and the training and leadership development they received is one of the reasons they still feel so strongly about serving the community,” Kern says. “About 80 percent of our graduating members join the Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter right after their high school careers end. I think it’s because they realize the impact the chapter had on their lives. They want to show others that support going forward.”
Some Serious Fun-Raising
The Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter’s most profitable and popular fundraiser is the Fun Auction, held in conjunction with the chapter’s annual meeting on the Sunday that kicks off National FFA Week each February. The event is open to the public and includes a lunchtime fish fry and an evening benefit auction with items donated by local businesses and individuals. All of the funds raised are used to help Washington County FFA members.
For example, the alumni chapter raised $13,275 at the 2015 Fun Auction, which was used to send 47 members to the Kansas FFA Leader Lab, WLC, Kansas and National FFA Convention & Expos, state conference for chapter leaders and various camps. In addition, a significant portion of the earnings went toward college scholarships.
“One reason I think we are so successful is that we’re very transparent about where the money we raise goes,” Zenger says. “We provide three $1,250 college scholarships to graduating senior members every year, and all eligible senior members earn a $1,000 scholarship. We’ve also helped several members go to WLC over the years, and we do our best to help members attend the Kansas State Convention, state contests and other events. If Mr. Kern needs assistance buying extra tools or materials for the classroom, we pitch in. The community wants to give when it realizes who it’s helping.”
According to Stewart, the 2016 Fun Auction raised $15,000, resulting in even more benefits for Washington County FFA members.
“It means a lot to me to be able to help the kids,” Stewart says. “Some of them don’t have the same opportunities as other members, and we try to provide those opportunities so they can have the chance to grow as individuals and become well-rounded citizens. When I see these kids grow up and become successful leaders in their communities, that’s what really makes me feel like I’ve done something good.”
The Washington County FFA Alumni Chapter also partners with the Washington County FFA to assist with events like land judging, livestock and agronomy competitions by volunteering their time and resources. They regularly coach FFA members who are preparing for their supervised agricultural experience (SAE) interviews or FFA-related speeches and project presentations. Additionally, alumni chapter members judge state- and national-level FFA events.
“When we have an activity, our alumni chapter members are usually the first people to step forward and provide what we need, whether that’s food, parking cars or helping us acquire a venue,” Kern says. “They help us with countless things, and I feel fortunate to be an advisor of a chapter that has something set up so well and runs so efficiently.”
How To Help
It’s likely easier than you think to have a big impact on your local FFA chapters.
If you’re interested in helping a chapter raise money, consider hosting a community-wide event in its honor – like a pancake breakfast with a suggested donation – or join together with fellow alumni to host a consignment sale. Other fundraising options include auctions, car washes and walkathons, just to name a few. Get creative!
Donating your time is another way to help local FFA chapters. For example, most chapters need volunteers to assist with events, and members who are preparing for interviews or competitions typically need a sounding board. Who better to help out than a former FFA member who knows what judges are looking for?
Finally, simply get in touch with your local chapter’s advisor and ask what he or she needs. You may have the materials or resources on hand. If not, consider helping out with the cost.