FFA is the fastest growing youth organization in the nation, getting kids from 12 to 21 involved in a wide variety of activities. But involvement in FFA is not strictly just a youth movement with older alumni members continuing to work with younger members and promote the ideals of the organization.
According the national Web site, there are 523,309 FFA members, aged 12 to 21, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In Montana, there are about 2,800 members and also 650 alumni members who are over the age of 21, according to Kristen Swenson, Montana State FFA alumni president.
FFA alumni are members of their community who understand and are committed to helping younger FFA members succeed in leadership, education and service, according to Swenson. “FFA has played such an important part in so many lives,” she said.
That role doesn’t end when the FFA member turns 21, she added. Instead, they can continue to be vital members of the national organization and work alongside their local, state and national leaders, helping the next generation grow and improve.
While many alumni members wore the blue jacket in their younger years, many were never able to participate in local FFA chapters. However, they can still join the alumni organization and help coordinate local FFA activities, conduct a fund raisers, judge contests, plan FFA conventions, even travel with the FFA.
“We are here to lend support to the local FFA advisors and the FFA members,” Swenson said.
If FFA groups are traveling to another part of the state for a competition, they can call an alumni member for help in locating a place to stay.
Alumni members also help ensure the competitions run smoothly, that the livestock, meats and crops are all in place for judging events.
“We may call an alumni member to come be a judge or listen to oral reasons,” said Swenson. A lot of former FFA members do not know an alumni organization exists, but it does and it is growing and spreading.
“We come from all across the state. We are a very diverse group but we all are connected through our belief in the importance of FFA,” she said.
Recently Swenson and a group of alumni members met with the school board of Twin Bridges, Mont., to help them start up a new chapter in that community.
“We visit with them and tell them what they need to do to get started. We hand them a copy of the by-laws, then we are there to answer their questions every step of the way,” Swenson explained.
Without alumni members helping leaders and communities, the organization would not be able to grow as quickly or as smoothly as it has.
“We’re excited about activating interest across the state of Montana. FFA has played such an important part in so many lives. With the changes we see in agriculture and education, we are finding that the vo-ag FFA program, which combines both, is really very important.”
Currently the state alumni leaders are trying to reconnect with former FFA members, let them know the alumni organization does exist and encourage them to join.
Some other fun things the alumni members can do is mentor an FFA member working on a special project, or help to plan the annual state convention. Sometimes they just act as hosts and hostesses, to direct arriving chapters and their members to the right location for various competitions, and answer their questions.
“Some chapters in the state have well-established alumni affiliates to help. Some don’t want help from alumni members. We respect that. We are here to help if a chapter wants or needs our help,” said Swenson.
Membership dues for alumni members are $5 a year for collegiate members, $10 per year for annual members; $150 one-time payment for a lifetime members; and $300 a year for a corporate membership. The money raised by the alumni members helps fund FFA Leadership Camp, scholarships, pay for administrative expenses, and help with the state convention’s silent auction.
“It’s incredible how small the world is when you become an alumni member,” said Swenson.
“The FFA has done so much for so many people. It is so important. There is a passion in this group. We want to help vo-ag instructors and leaders anyway we can. The FFA is such an impacting organization with rewards that go far beyond high school. What they learn in FFA about leadership and service lasts for a lifetime,” she concluded.
To find out more about joining the FFA Alumni group near you, or to start one in your part of the state, go to mtffa.org or contact Swenson by phone at 406-580-7579 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Anyone who is interested can also visit with them at the upcoming Montana Agricultural and Industrial Expo (MAGIE) to be held in Great Falls, Mont., Jan. 20-22, 2011.