“I get pretty emotional thinking about it, actually. It kind of hit me hard that someone couldn’t afford a blue jacket,” Washington D.C. FFA Alumni President Kellie Bray shares, apologizing for her “waterworks” and cracking voice. “Not that we were wealthy by any means, but it was kind of like any other uniform in school, for a sport or whatever. Of course, you’d have to have one if you were in FFA [as she and her siblings had been, just as their father had been in his youth]. I had never thought of the need of students who couldn’t.”
But last year, as senior director of government affairs for CropLife America, Bray learned about the “Give the Gift of Blue” program during CropLife America’s annual meeting.
“Of course, I thought of my dad [Ken Bray]. He was a past chapter president in 1959-60,” she says. “I mean, what do you get your dad for Christmas? Then I thought I should include my brother Brad and sister Kristie too.” All had been members of the Cameron FFA Chapter in Missouri, so she donated jackets through the National FFA Foundation’s Give the Gift of Blue program in her family’s honor (including one in her name). Bray cleverly hung small blue jacket replica cards like ornaments on the tree, and then presented them to her family on Christmas Day. She also included student testimonials from the jacket recipients, which the National FFA Foundation had sent her.
She says the gifts were a hit. Her brother commented on how neat it would be if you were a member who didn’t have the family support or background in FFA or agriculture, and were now able to participate in this program that can open new doors and career paths.
Beyond its blue corduroy and timeless design, the jacket’s symbolism stands out for Bray. “It is exactly the same jacket for everyone all across the country; it’s such an identifier and unifier,” she says. “I really hope that whether it’s easy to get one or a challenge, the students feel that sense of being a part of something bigger than them. That has to be exciting, especially with thousands and thousands wearing them.”
As leader of the Washington, D.C. FFA Alumni chapter, Bray went on to promote the Give the Gift of Blue program at one of her group’s annual events.
Bray says the D.C. alumni group was established nine years ago and enjoys getting together because of their past FFA experiences and their strong professional network now. “I’d encourage alumni chapters not to limit themselves to including only those who wore the blue jacket,” she says. “We have a lot of friends and supporters out there that maybe didn’t have a chapter in their community or didn’t come from an agricultural background but are working in it now. They might not be former FFA members, but they care about the organization and see value in it.”
For more on Give the Gift of Blue, visit FFA.org/giveblue.