Bonanza FFA students open their minds, hearts at a national leadership conference
Preparing meals for the needy. Talking to lawmakers. Visiting the graves of soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.
Four Bonanza Junior-Senior High School FFA students earlier this month spent more than a week in Washington D.C. learning about advocacy, purpose, and leadership during the FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference.
Seniors Jean Herrera, LaLita Maldonado, and Taylor Randall and junior Jaycie Schooler traveled with Bonanza’s
FFA advisor Anna Aylett to participate in the national conference. It was the first time members from Bonanza’s
FFA chapter has attended.
“It was a great opportunity for them to see a different part of the country, meet FFA members from across the nation and gain top-notch leadership training,” Aylett said. “They spent much of the week going outside their comfort zone with leadership exercises, rooming with students they did not know before, and seeing what it is like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”
Taylor Randall, who will be a senior this fall, said the conference opened her eyes to community needs and ways that youth can help. “It was just really eye-opening to have that experience,” she said, adding that the conference stressed diversity and community engagement. Each conference attendee created Living to Serve plans, which outline ways they would like to help their communities. Randall would like to do a food drive. Jean Herrera, who also will be a senior at Bonanza this fall, said her Living to Serve plan includes expanding outreach and education about the need for blood donation, and specifically the need for rare blood type donors. She would like to see Bonanza’s FFA and honor society team up and attract more donors to annual blood drives at the school.
The goal of the conference is to provide leadership training to FFA members. Students complete tours and
workshops in the nation’s capital throughout the week to learn how to become engaged citizens.
“WLC is definitely the perfect opportunity to not only broaden your knowledge of agriculture but to open your mind to the needs of people around you,” Herrera said. “It helps you see these needs and that you can actually do something about it.”
Aylett organized a trip to New York City a few days before the conference to give students a chance to explore
historical sites and art and architecture on the East Coast. In New York, they visited the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
At the conference, students begin learning about their own purpose and examining what they have to offer their FFA chapter, school, and community. They visited Arlington National Cemetery where thousands of military service members who served their country with purpose were laid to rest. They toured the monuments and memorials representing key figures who lived a life of purpose.
Conference attendees spent a day learning about diversity and how to effectively work with others. The day included a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Another day was dedicated to advocacy, and students toured the U.S. Capitol and met with Oregon’s Congressman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.
The final day of the conference focused on service. The Bonanza students joined others in packaging nearly 60,000 meals for Washington, D.C.-area food banks as part of a project called Meals of Hope.
“Students learned about being servant leaders and were encouraged to think about ways they can improve their own communities by doing what they can with what they have where they are,” Aylett said.
There were about 270 students from all over the U.S. and 62 advisors in attendance during the week.