A community approach placed two Washington FFA chapters in the national eye as Yelm FFA and Omak FFA chapters both took home national “model” awards from the 89th National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis earlier this fall.
Yelm FFA was named the 2016 National Model of Excellence Chapter Award winner, while the Omak Chapter received the 2016 National Model of Innovation Chapter Award.
But what set these chapters apart from the rest?
“Our members saw a growing need to develop 21st century skills within the chapter so that members were more employable after high school,” said Matt Mounts, Yelm FFA advisor. “They proceeded to create a series of workshops that focused on the type of skills employers are demanding of their employees.”
Mounts said the workshops often exceeded 100 attendees, and by the end of the year every member had attended nearly five hours of training.
Another area Yelm FFA concentrated on was feeding the community.
“Over the past year the Yelm FFA Chapter has really focused on having an impact on both the community and growing employable young adults,” said Matt Mounts, Yelm FFA advisor. “Our members have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to spread the message about food insecurity and have put a plan into action to help solve this issue.”
One such campaign in action was Yelm’s “Plant an Extra Row.” FFA members provided seeds to community members in hopes that they would plant an extra row in their garden and donate that produce back to local food banks. Members also expanded the number of raised bed gardens at the school in order to maximize the amount of produce they grow and expand their impact from just the food bank to other local organizations like the Yelm Senior Center.
In addition to food banks, Yelm FFA also brought attention to breast cancer awareness in their community. During the “Pink Out” breast cancer awareness football game, 368 Yelm High School students received pink face paint, hair dye or spirit materials, and together created a “sea of pink” to raise breast cancer awareness among students, parents, and community members. Another upshot … the chapter recruited six new FFA members who were inspired by the cause.
Omak FFA also found membership success by providing a larger variety of activities that appealed to a more diverse population.
“When we conducted activities we made it as cheap (free is better) to our members, made activities fun, and made sure that they were well organized,” said Elaine Lewis, Omak FFA advisor. “We also made sure that individuals were recognized for their efforts, and staff and community knew what our members had accomplished. All members were treated equal and made to feel valued.”
The Omak FFA Chapter developed a unique social media campaign to promote FFA activities and membership. Each FFA officer selected a stuffed animal that would travel with them to FFA events. Officers then posted pictures and messages online with their mascot at the activity. Through this campaign, the chapter exceeded their goal and membership increased over the previous year by 50 percent.
Lewis, who was new to Omak FFA, worked hard, made herself available to the students, and helped them accomplish things that they never thought they could.
“I had to make them believe me when I said that we could win or we could meet this fundraising goal. The advisor has to be willing to work and lead by example,” Lewis said. “Another thing was that our members succeeded! They were trained and prepared for competitions and placed. This gave them confidence and they knew that their time had been well spent.”
Lewis said everything the Omak chapter pursued was intentional. One such example is the outhouse the chapter built for the Conconully Outhouse Races.
“This was sold to the members as a recreational activity and it was! We selected this particular venue to play because it was a high-profile community activity that would let people know that the Omak FFA was still alive,” Lewis said. “We were busy, but we limited our activities and only took on things that we could do a good job at.”
Getting the job done right is what motivated both Washington FFA chapters.
“No matter the size of the task, kids want to be successful and will show tremendous growth if given the opportunity,” Mounts said. “Giving them the opportunity to experience success opens the eyes and minds of your members and plants a seed in them that will grow into an ‘I can achieve’ attitude. These members will then aim high and maximize their time and effort trying to achieve greatness.”