FFA proves service is essential

Joe Schlies
River Ridge members are hard at work cleaning the ditches of road on Highway 18 near Patch Grove, WI as part of their Adopt-a-Highway program. Numerous chapters in Wisconsin Adopt-a-Highway to volunteer their time to remove trash, recyclables and litter from highways through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

With the temperatures starting to warm up across the state and the sun light out slightly longer each day, tractors are seeing the fields more often which means farmers are working longer days. Seeing the sunrise during morning farm chores and the sunset when working in the field is just one of the many rewards of putting in the longer days for the industry we all love. Another group of individuals also putting in longer days are the ones who wear the blue corduroy jackets.

Spring time for the FFA is like no other as it is by far some of the busiest times, and this year is no different. Right now, members are in the midst of competing in Career and Leadership Development Events (CDE’s and LDE’s), planning for chapter banquets, submitting applications, plant sales, and we cannot forget about the preparation taking place for the 92nd Wisconsin State FFA Convention set to be held in Madison at the beginning of July. My teammates and I have also seen our calendars continue to stay full with more events having the opportunity to safely take place in-person.

While members have been patiently waiting for CDE’s, LDE’s, and chapter banquets to take place, there are some events they couldn’t wait for and have been taking place all year long- community service projects. One of the many lessons learned from FFA members in the last 13 months is realizing how essential community service is. We’ve seen how essential toilet paper, milk, meat, and Zoom are, but have you ever thought about community service as being on top of the essential list? Thinking back, it is clear that we sometimes undervalue community service in three key aspects.

It wasn’t too out of the ordinary growing up to go to the local grocery store and know just about everyone in the store. Living in a small community there were people who it seemed were everywhere in the community. Grocery store, gas station, church picnic, parade, polka fest, you name it, they were there. And oftentimes they were the same people who also volunteered at every community event. I would be willing to bet that I may be talking to a few individuals on this call today who are also like that. For my hometown, it was the retired agriculture teacher, Mr. Ken Seering. Not only did he continue to help volunteer in our FFA Alumni after 36 years of being the FFA advisor, but he was very active in our Lions Club and just about every community event that was hosted. If someone was looking for volunteers, Mr. Seering was the first one to sign up and the biggest recruiter for volunteers. You know who Mr. Seering is if you are from Denmark to say the least.

Members of the Bloomer FFA grew lettuce using their new hydroponics system to donate to their high school’s lunch program. Many chapters across the state have partnerships with their school lunch program to provide lettuce from their agriculture department.

Our communities run off of people like Mr. Seering: those who will spend countless hours helping others in any way possible for the benefit of their community. To our community, we would be at a huge loss without him, but to Mr. Seering, he was just doing what he loves- serving others. Something Mr. Seering believed was essential. From being able to witness Mr. Seering’s value to the Denmark community while he thought he was just doing what was right, I can firmly say: don’t undervalue your role in your community.

FFA members also understand the important part they play in their community. Take for example the Mississippi River Clean-Up the Cochrane-Fountain City FFA Chapter just completed this past month. Members picked up debris along the Mississippi River by walking along the river banks and riding in boats in the backwaters. The actions FFA members are taking today to help preserve our environment are what will allow the future of agriculture continue to be bright. When we don’t undervalue our role in our communities, we are able to accomplish so much more, which brings me to my next point.

Community service comes in all sizes for FFA chapters across the state. Each year, the Mishicot FFA award’s the Five Dollar Challenge Scholarship. This scholarship first starts with senior FFA members applying for a five dollar grant which will fund a community service project they intend on completing. Once the grants are awarded, recipients then have to implement their plans and report to the scholarship selection committee about the progress and results of their service project. Members’ projects range have ranged from creating donation jars to place around the community and raise funds for individuals battling cancer, the humane society or homeless shelters to buying supplies and teaching children about Wisconsin agriculture.

Through many of these initiatives, thousands of dollars have been raised. For some, five dollars is what may be considered as chump change, but for so many, five dollars turned into something they were positively impacted by. Don’t undervalue your role in what you can accomplish through service. Five dollars does more than just raise awareness for a cause, it brings communities closer.

And that brings us to the final aspect- don’t undervalue the collective impact you can make. With an organization over 21,000 members strong in Wisconsin, the FFA has shown Unstoppable service in recognizing how important essential community service is. Over 250 chapters across our state are intentionally working together to continue building our communities given the struggles the agricultural industry has faced recently, especially in the food supply chain.

Opportunities of taking on community challenges collectively are something the FFA organization strives to promote. Take a minute to think about the various ways you have served with others to help your community. If I know those apart of the agriculture industry well enough, I am sure the list is long.

Life for the past 13 months have been lived with only the essentials, one of them being service. When our world came to a halt last year, FFA members understood the importance of service in our communities. No matter if you volunteer at every event or can only commit to a few occasional ones, don’t undervalue three things: Your role in your community, what you can accomplish through service, and the collective impact you can make. Just like the farmers who are putting in longer days this spring, Wisconsin FFA chapters have proven to be essential in supporting rural communities through service.

Wisconsin State FFA President Joe Schlies

Joe Schlies is President of the 2020-21 Wisconsin State FFA Officer Team