From the Advisor: Leading Students to Develop Relevant Community Service Projects
With additional community service hours being required for State and American FFA Degrees, FFA advisors should not be depending upon their members to seek out community service opportunities with other organizations. Advisors should take the lead to identify, develop and execute community service projects that are relevant for their respective community needs. Collaborating with existing service organizations, identifying community needs, and utilizing grant resources are great strategies to develop a meaningful community service experience for FFA members.
A variety of options exist for FFA chapters to join up with existing community groups to assist with established community service efforts.
Civic organizations such as Lions Club, Rotary and Kiwanis groups are very in-tune with the needs of the community and conduct several service projects each month. FFA members could easily reach out to these established groups to determine events that additional help is needed. Once a partnership is created, FFA members would have a variety of events to choose from to log community service hours.
Parks & Recreation Departments for local townships are often responsible for maintaining various park facilities and often seek out volunteers from the community for a variety of projects. These departments coordinate yearly clean-up efforts and implement new building projects, which would align with environmental science and agricultural construction interests of some FFA chapters. An innovative FFA chapter could evaluate township parks and recreational areas and propose a new addition that could serve new populations in the community.
Local agribusinesses are often required to plan outreach events that benefit the community. Connecting with local agribusinesses is a great opportunity to meet local business leaders and demonstrate your FFA chapter’s commitment to the “Living to Serve” philosophy. Examples of events could include hosting a meal packing event or organizing a 5K or “fun run” to support a local charity.
Identify Community Needs
Service events are meant to improve conditions of a community and serve a purpose for its citizens. But, it is imperative to understand the needs of a community before planning and implementing a project. A variety of community needs assessment templates are available and present several integration options to bolster each component of the 3-circle model.
Assessing community needs can be integrated into classroom instruction by introducing the concept of service-learning, which is a step up from simply performing community service. Ag Communications and Leadership classes could be tasked with identifying an appropriate needs assessment and develop strategies to receive information from community leaders. Linking skills, knowledge and competencies to a service effort elevate the project to become a learning experience rather than just showing up to perform manual labor.
FFA committees, officers or general members can be challenged to develop a unique yearly project, follow-up with key community leaders, or select existing service efforts that match the goals of the chapter. Information from the community needs assessment should be consulted. Be sure to guide your FFA members to create SMART goals, record impacts, and reflect on the event so it can be included in your National Chapter Award application!
With new guiding principles for SAE (from the National Council for Agriculture Education), service-learning is a recognized option for students to pursue for an SAE program. For students with strong ties to the community or parents involved in an existing service organization, a service-learning SAE can be a viable option to allow students to gain technical skills and reinforce academic skills outside the classroom.
Depending upon the size and scale of a service effort, additional funds may be needed to accomplish the goals for the project. Finding funding and grant-writing is a valuable learning opportunity for students and can be the perfect job for students that have strong written communication skills. Here are a few options of some funding sources:
National FFA “Living to Serve” Grants are perfect for a chapter looking to start planning their own projects or the experienced chapter looking to facilitate a large service effort. There are options to apply for grants to support a year-long or semester-long project as well as a one-time event. Deadlines vary throughout the school year, but these options provide flexibility to suit any FFA chapter. National FFA staffers are very helpful and supportive through the simple grant application.
State FFA Foundations may offer funds to chapters developing innovative projects. Availability will vary from state-to-state.
Local Educational Foundations often fund projects for extra-curricular school groups as part of their mission to support education in local schools.
Utilizing grant search websites, such as www.grantwatch.com, offers a simple and free method to seek out funding specifically for service efforts.
Integrating community service shouldn’t be “one more thing” for an agriculture teacher/FFA advisor. Realizing that community service looks different in each FFA chapter across the nation, the needs of a community and goals for the chapter should be evaluated before implementing projects. Make it a resolution for your chapter join the “Living to Serve” movement in 2018 and improve your community!
Photo courtesy of Kentucky FFA Association