By Lura Roti
More than 4,500 South Dakota FFA members will celebrate National FFA Week Feb. 17-24.
Founded to provide farm boys with leadership skills in 1929, the organization continues to be among the premier leadership organizations for high school youth - but today, it serves urban as well as rural youth from a diversity of backgrounds.
To understand how this 89-year-old organization continues to attract members and impact the lives of South Dakota's youth, South Dakota Farmers Union asked four members of the 2017-2018 state FFA officer team a few questions.
The current officer team includes: President Dalton Larson; Vice President Clayton Sorum; Secretary April Hamilton; Treasurer Aaron Linke; Reporter Avery Gilchrist and Sentinel Elle Moon.
Why did you join the FFA?
Avery Gilchrist, State Reporter from Winner answers: FFA is sort of a family tradition. Both of my grandparents were members of the Menno FFA Chapter and my mom, Rhonda Woehl, was an FFA adviser.
What kept me involved was the Natural Resources career development event. I love hunting so much, so this contest, which involved species identification of various insects, fish, birds, mammals, trees and other plant life along with solving math problems made me feel like I was learning about something that I could expand on and maybe even help me in my future career.
The FFA did just that. I am currently double majoring in agriculture education and wildlife and fisheries at South Dakota State University.
How did your involvement in FFA impact your high school experience?
Elle Moon, State Sentinel from Wall answers: At first, I was shy and FFA taught me to step outside my comfort zone, meet people and overall, become a better communicator.
Pretty soon, when I would travel with my high school for sports, I knew all these other high school kids by name because of meeting them through FFA. Networking is important, and I really learned a lot about networking through FFA.
Today, I love meeting people, and no matter what career I pursue, communication is important.
As you traveled across South Dakota putting on workshops and camps for FFA members and visiting all schools with agriculture education classes, what message have you and your team mates been sharing?
Clayton Sorum, State Vice President from Canton answers: The concept of being present in all that you do is something we have focused on. We have limited time to do what we do, so we need to all work to make each day count. This is also true for us as state officers, we are nominated to serve for only one year.
I really enjoy meeting with FFA members and making connections.
FFA has also taught me a lot about time management. Along with my duties as a state FFA officer, I am also a college student, so I, and my teammates, have all had to become efficient at time management.
How has involvement in the FFA prepared you for life after school?
Dalton Larson, State President from Hartford answers: One of my favorite questions to ask members is, "Who wants to have a job after school?" Everyone raises their hand. Then we get to share how through career development events, like Job Interview, FFA helps prepare us all for our future.
Growing up on a farm, I've always been passionate about agriculture, so as an FFA member I learned how I could expand on this foundation and move into a career that would keep me connected to my roots.
By competing in the Ag Sales career development event, I decided to pursue an agriculture business degree at South Dakota State University.
Through involvement in FFA, I became more outgoing and developed public speaking skills. I am still reserved, but I have learned to be comfortable reaching out to others and make connections. Through FFA I also learned that it's OK to be reserved. We all have different personalities and we need to respect each other and our differences.