By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The greatest advocates of FFA and agriculture education tend to be past FFA members and members of local- and state-affiliated FFA alumni associations, according to Lucy Whitehead, program manager of the National FFA Alumni Assoc.
“Past FFA members often see FFA and ag education as key to the depth and scope of agriculture – including the cultivation of the next generation of ag leaders,” she said.
Case in point: Meet Justin McKain, an eager and active past Hoosier FFA member and current district sales manager for Great Heart Seed, an independent seed company based in Paris, Ill. Soon after high school graduation, McKain, a past FFA member at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Ind., and past district FFA officer, began searching for ways to reconnect with his FFA roots and blue-and-gold experiences.
“Two years after I graduated, I learned that there was no state alumni association,” he said. “I was a little surprised to learn this news, knowing that Indiana had such a thriving FFA program – it didn’t make sense to me.”
McKain soon learned despite the fact the Indiana FFA Alumni Assoc. was one of the first state chapters to charter in 1971, years later as board members begin to retire from council, the program fell to the wayside. According to Whitehead, at that time, the alumni council was made up primarily of ag teachers and advisors.
“And if you know much about FFA, you also know that ag advisors are often stretched for time,” she said. “To truly have a well-rounded alumni council, it needs to include business, industry and individual volunteers.”
Additionally, Whitehead went on to describe the importance of state support, particularly a state employee that helps transition council members and provides overall stability.
“Now that we have state staff support in Joe Martin, it has made all the difference and provided so much more overall strength to the (state alumni) association,” she said.
With the help of Martin, McKain and Whitehead, an FFA alumni taskforce was developed to determine what the program should look like and what should be different from original association guidelines penned during the charter of the state group in 1971. After weeks of meetings and discussions, an interim 11-member alumni council was formed in early 2010.
“Our hope was to launch the program that year, but everything didn’t quite line up yet,” McKain said. “During 2010, we went to any state function we could to promote the Indiana FFA Alumni Association, and we really started to see a good response; from that point we knew we were headed in the right direction.”
During the first year back on the books, the Indiana FFA Alumni Assoc. helped charter five new local chapter affiliates, which includes approximately 80 new alumni members. Today, the Indiana FFA Alumni proudly supports 20 local chapter affiliates, including 500 FFA advocates and alumni members – and it is growing.
McKain said the primary goal of the Indiana FFA Alumni Assoc. is to serve as a support network for local chapter affiliates, be financial partners with the Indiana FFA Foundation and, most importantly, provide members with an advocacy link to continue the promotion of ag education and FFA programs at the local level.
By 2012, the state alumni association elected an official council, chaired by McKain, and developed and released a new state of bylaws.
“We wanted to start fresh – and take a look at how we really wanted this association to look – so we drafted a brand new set of bylaws and we have been blessed. We’ve had a great response,” he said.
The association officially launched Indiana FFA Alumni during the 2012 Indiana FFA State Convention in May on Purdue University’s campus in West Lafayette. According to McKain, when one is a member of a chapter affiliate, they are automatically a member of the state association. Individual membership for Indiana is $15, which also covers national dues.
“To be the most effective state association, our goal is to strengthen local affiliates and empower our membership to be better advocates for ag education and the FFA Organization,” he said. “You are going to see a lot of involvement from alumni doing workshops at (the state) convention and professional development throughout the year.”
Whitehead highlighted the key benefits of FFA alumni membership: actively sustaining the future of agriculturalists, including giving back time and money to support FFA youth and programs; many networking opportunities to grow both personally and professionally; supporting local communities by supporting chapter programs; and the Ag Career Network.
The Network launched Oct.15 as an online membership system for FFA alumni to keep professional material in one spot, such as résumés and professional work samples and to connect with students and advisors in mentoring opportunities. Since companies have access to the data, it also serves as a job hunting resource.
“And just because you weren’t a member of FFA in high school, doesn’t mean you aren’t encouraged to join FFA alumni; many students just didn’t have the opportunity and that’s not the case with alumni, everyone is welcome to join and become advocates for FFA and ag education,” added Whitehead.
To start a local affiliate or find out more about becoming an FFA alumni member, go to www.ffa.org/alumni