Perspectives Online

Living to Serve, State FFA makes good on fulfilling its motto. By Terri Leith

A suggestion from Dr. Mike Ward (above, in tie) to FFA members at their state convention led to the creation of hundreds of kits containing school supplies to be sent to school children in Zimbabwe (below). That service project led ultimately to the establishment of an annual national service project.
Photos courtesy Joshua Bledsoe

The 2003-2004 state FFA theme was "Living the Legacy." By 2005, North Carolina FFA members had established a new legacy - a statewide service project that became the foundation for an annual National FFA service initiative.

school children in Zimbabwe
"This is a tremendous story because it shows the power of FFA. It demonstrates that FFA is truly of, by and for students - here and abroad," says Joshua Bledsoe, state FFA coordinator in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The "story" is about North Carolina FFA's 2004 service project to send boxes of school supplies to students in Zimbabwe.

Last June, Dr. Mike Ward, then superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction, addressed the state FFA convention and then visited the state FFA leadership conference in July. At both events, Ward told FFA members about the needs of children in Zimbabwe, where the AIDS pandemic has killed so many adults that now many older children are raising younger children. "Our FFA officers asked Dr. Ward what we could do to help," Bledsoe recalls, "and he told us they needed school supplies and suggested the student-to-student program." Thus, a service project was born.

With direction from Ward's department on the types of supplies needed, the North Carolina FFA Association bought materials and, during the state leadership conference in July, FFA members created 75 kits to send to Zimbabwe. The kits contained general school supplies such as notebook paper, pens, pencils, markers, rulers, protractors, calculators, crayons, children's scissors, glue sticks, water color paint and brushes, clipboards, erasers, maps, chart/graph paper and pocket dictionaries, along with basic personal hygiene items - washcloths, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush. The students also decorated the boxes and wrote messages of encouragement on them.

By the time statewide FFA chapters got into the act, 575 more kits for a total of 650 were created to send to Zimbabwe. The Collegiate FFA chapter in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was part of the effort as well. It contributed 10 boxes and assisted in stuffing supplies in bags for transfer to Goldsboro's MERCI Center, a relief agency from which the kits were shipped to Zimbabwe.

"The estimated cost per box is $30, so with 650 the total value of the project was at least $19,500," Bledsoe says. "Each box also included a donation of $5 per kit ($3,250) to cover shipping costs."

he cost of the first 75 boxes was donated by the North Carolina FFA Association. The other 575 were paid for by chapters through outside donations of money or of actual supplies, or came from the chapter budgets.

In addition to sending the packages to students in Zimbabwe, FFA will be sending agricultural information to help students grow their own food.

"FFA groups have been doing service projects at the local level for years," Bledsoe says. "But this was the first effort on a statewide level."

And now, he says, "each year, at state leadership conference we hope to introduce the statewide service project for the upcoming year. That's when we have the best and brightest leaders together at one time."

Future projects will be selected according to current needs, he says. "We went international this year, but next year it could be in the United States, in North Carolina, maybe in Wake County."

However, before looking to next year, the FFA students had one more goal in mind.

"After the members made the boxes, they embraced the service theme so much that when we identified our top 10 issues for the National FFA Convention, the members came up with the idea that there should be a National FFA Service project," Bledsoe says.

The members submitted the service-themed project to the State Presidents Conference in Washington, D.C., last summer. There, state FFA officers from every state met to narrow down such topics from across the nation and to select the top issues to be addressed at the National FFA Convention. "The national service project idea went through that process and made the top list," said Bledsoe. "This idea generated by members in North Carolina would now be addressed nationally."

FFA members filled the student-to-student kits with everything from paper and pens to graph paper and glue sticks to personal hygiene items. They also wrote messages of greeting and encouragement on the boxes.
(Courtesy Joshua Bledsoe)
It then went to National FFA Convention where 475 student delegates approved the creation of a national service project. In January, the National FFA Board of Directors passed the issue, and now there will be a National FFA service project every year. What began locally had culminated in the potential of participation by 467,732 FFA members nationwide.

"And it all began with just one idea from a group of students," says Bledsoe. "Together we are strong. We knew if each chapter made a couple of boxes, we would have the impact and strength to make a difference."

In that same spirit, the North Carolina FFA Foundation established the Tsunami Relief Project in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster in south Asia. "We've been successful in raising $4,000 in this project," Bledsoe says.

It's all in a day's work for an organization whose motto is "Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve."

"When you think of service, you think of the impact, the difference it makes," says Bledsoe. "I hope we can continue with projects where students contribute more than money, giving time and effort to help a worthy cause."

Meanwhile the ripple effect of the North Carolina FFA's service project makes its way around the world.