To the Editor,
The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 540,379 student members in grades seven through 12 who belong to one of 7,489 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
This summer, for seven weeks, more than 2,200 students will attend our Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. This seven-week event helps students develop leadership skills, identify personal strengths, develop awareness of societal differences and human needs and strategize how they can help others through community service. Each student develops a community-service initiative for their local community, with the intention of students returning home and implementing their plans.
Students come to the conference wanting to learn how to make a difference in the world. They leave knowing they can - and will. That's exactly what Sierra Coulthard did last year.
After last year's event, the Wisconsin high school FFA member returned home and immediately connected with Nashville-based Soles4Souls, which since 2005 has secured more than 17 million new and gently used shoes for people throughout the world. The charity shipped her a supply of shoe boxes that she placed throughout her home town of Neillsville for donations. Nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes were given to the "Sierra's Shoes" drive.
And last month, Coulthard had the opportunity to personally deliver shoes to deserving children in Haiti.
I believe students are generally aware of global problems like hunger and poverty but many are sheltered and disconnected from what's happening in the world. During their time at our conference, FFA members experience real-world problems and take critical steps toward personal growth and developing leadership skills they'll need to make a difference in people's lives, starting in their own communities.
The conclusion of each weekly session of the Washington Leadership Conference is a Day of Service, where students work together on a real, hands-on community-service project. Last year, through each week's Day of Service, students contributed a total of $85,283 worth of volunteer labor. Students packed, sorted and distributed more than 29.5 tons of produce and shipped more than 100,000 meals overseas. This year, FFA members will volunteer more than 9,500 hours to pack and ship thousands of meals to Nicaragua to help the third-world country battle hunger.
Today's FFA is thriving and deeply committed, through opportunities like the Washington Leadership Conference, to developing students' potential and become leaders in our country's No. 1 industry - agriculture.
- W. Dwight Armstrong, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
National FFA Organization