FFA chapter recognized for community service efforts

It’s not often a high school student goes out of its way to help those in its community. But the 27 members of the Southwestern Heights FFA chapter strive to go above and beyond.

The chapter was named the State Champion FFA Chapter in the Building Communities Division of the National Chapter Awards Program at the Kansas State FFA Convention in Manhattan, Kansas, on May 31. This honor sent them on to the recent 91st National FFA Convention and Expo, where the Southwestern Heights FFA Chapter was recognized as a 3-Star National Chapter and a Model of Excellence finalist.

Local level chapters are often thought of as the heart of the national organization. In the National Chapter Awards Program chapters are rewarded for providing educational experiences for their entire membership at the local level.

Carmelita Goossen, advisor for Southwestern Heights FFA chapter, said there are a number of accomplishments her students learn from taking part in these projects.

“I think that the biggest thing our students get from planning and participating in our community service projects is the realization that small groups of students and community partners are capable of doing projects that have a large impact on their community if we all work together,” she said.

The Model of Excellence recognition is highly sought after by FFA Chapters across the nation. Only 3-Star National Chapters qualify based on FFA Advisor and Industry Leader rankings of Chapter FFA Activities dedicated to growing leaders, building communities, and strengthening agriculture. There are only 10 chapters across the United States chosen as Model of Excellence.

The chapter was originally chartered in 1965, when Kismet and Plains, Kansas, schools were consolidated to form Southwestern Heights.

“Superior FFA Chapters emphasize quality standards for growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture and the top 10 percent of FFA Chapters in each state are eligible to compete for National FFA Star Chapter Awards,” Goossen said. “Southwestern Heights FFA members conduct numerous activities annually to build their local communities including the Clean Water Academy, the Chain of Love Bedding Project and A Slice of Food Security.”

Preventing pollution

The group’s Clean Water Academy develops environmental responsibility by educating youth about how they can prevent pollution of our watershed. The Southwestern Heights FFA members reach more than 450 students from 22 kindergarten and first grade classes in all Seward County, Kansas, school districts.

“Local schools and communities are also positively influenced by reducing pollutants left by irresponsible individuals who are not concerned about the environment,” Goosen said.

Helping the homeless

The Chain of Love Bedding Project aims to improve the welfare of homeless citizens. Students weave insect- and water-repellent bedding made from recycled plastic grocery bags into 3-foot-wide by 6-foot-tall mats.

The chapter donated four of the recycled bed mats to an area homeless shelter for homeless citizens in southwest Kansas communities.

“This activity advances leaders because students learn that inexpensive things like recycled grocery sacks can be used to improve the welfare of homeless citizens in our community,” she said.

Agriculture’s role in a safe food supply

The Slice of Food Security project allows FFA members teach the community about the role agriculture plays in providing families with an affordable, healthy and safe food supply. According to Goossen, this activity is conducted in partnership with the Seward County Farm Bureau and Dillons Grocery Store of Liberal, Kansas. About 265 Dillons customers received a free loaf of bread donated by the store and four more won a $25 gift card sponsored by the Seward County Farm Bureau and Southwestern Heights FFA Chapter.

National recognition

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Most recently the chapter members completed the National Chapter Award Application. This application required a detailed description of each activity; an outline of the goals; the plan of action; those impacted by the activity; and how FFA members benefited their community in relation to specific quality standards.

“The Southwestern Heights FFA feels greatly honored for their recognition as the 2018 Kansas State Champion in the Building Communities Division of the National Chapter Award. There are more than 200 FFA Chapter in the State of Kansas, both rural and urban, who work to make a difference in their home communities so this is a tremendous honor,” Goosen said.

She believes the students get so much more out of the projects besides the honor of being recognized on local, state and national levels.

“Students who participate in FFA Activities practice a variety of skills they will use in their future career,” she said. “Our local FFA activities challenge FFA members to perform technical agriculture skills, safety, communication with people of all ages and agricultural advocacy to promote a greater understanding of how agricultural industries impact our economy while being stewards of our most valuable natural resources like water and soil.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at [email protected] or 620-227-1804.