Junior and senior high school members from Ohio’s Knox County FFA Chapter are living out the FFA mission to serve on a national level.
In 2013, Jim Scott, Knox County FFA advisor and landscape design and management instructor, had the vision for the annual trip. Participating students are now becoming leaders in their field.
“Ours is the only high school in the country that has this unusual opportunity to serve the military men and women resting at Arlington National Cemetery,” Scott says. “It came about because our students are members of the National Association of Landscape Professionals, and we do this service project each year with 500 green industry professionals from across the country. It’s one way our students can give back to our nation.”
Every July, Scott takes up to six students on the 400-mile trip to D.C., where they spend two days working at Arlington National Cemetery. They also visit a major league baseball park or the Congressional Country Club so students can see career opportunities in landscape design.
“At Arlington, we are assigned a crew leader who leads our group through tasks such as irrigating, fertilizing and planting flower beds,” Scott says. “Our students interact with green industry leaders from across the country, which allows them to network and build connections. We also spend time on Capitol Hill, where we meet our senators and express concerns we have about agriculture and the green industry.”
Money for the trip is raised by their FFA chapter, and each student attending contributes a portion of the cost. Austin Anderson, a senior, served at Arlington National Cemetery in 2016.
“I’m involved in JROTC, so I’m pretty patriotic already, but being at Arlington and seeing where thousands of people who protected our country are buried was a true privilege,” Anderson says. “We cared for those grounds like we were caring for our brothers. It was very meaningful.”
“It’s one way our students can give back to our nation,” said Jim Scott, Knox County FFA advisor.
Junior Joe Arms also attended in 2016. It was his first time to visit Washington, D.C.
“It was astonishing. We got to go into parts of the cemetery that the public doesn’t get to see,” he says. “To see what seems like miles of gravestones in a historic place like that was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You can’t understand the significance of it until you are there.”
Scott says students are usually a little apprehensive about serving at such a sacred cemetery, but it’s extremely rewarding.
“Students often have an ‘aha’ moment,” Scott says. “Living to serve is a key part of the FFA motto, and we try to serve in a way that will make a difference in students’ lives. This project helps them become contributing members of society and builds their character. For me, that’s one heck of a payday.”