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FFA support comes from more than just former members

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The word "alumni" when invoked regarding FFA alumni groups seems to indicate a gathering of former members of the agriculture education group. Perhaps a fraternity of sorts.

Hannah Gress is the North Dakota FFA State Treasurer. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service
Aaron Anderson is the North Dakota state FFA advisor. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service

BISMARCK, N.D. - The word "alumni" when invoked regarding FFA alumni groups seems to indicate a gathering of former members of the agriculture education group. Perhaps a fraternity of sorts.

But that's not the point at all.

"A local alumni group would be comparable to a sports booster club," says Aaron Anderson, ag ed supervisor for North Dakota Career and Technical Education.

The use of alumni in the name of the groups, Anderson says, can be a bit misleading.

"It's just anyone who is interested in supporting agricultural education and FFA," he clarifies.

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To that point, the national group related to such organizations in February changed its name from the National FFA Alumni Association to National FFA Alumni and Supporters.

"In the National FFA Organization, you don't have to be a former member to be an alumni member, and the board wanted the name to reflect that opportunity," Joshua Rusk, executive director of National FFA Alumni and Supporters, said in a statement about the change.

No matter their name, Anderson says such groups are vital to agriculture education and FFA in communities across the country. In North Dakota, there are at least 36 alumni chapters with more than 3,000 members. There are 344,239 alumni members in 2,051 alumni chapters throughout the U.S.

"Not all of them were in FFA when they were younger," says Lynn Ostrem, a member of the executive team of the North Dakota FFA Alumni Association. "I think a lot of people feel like you have to have been an FFA member to be in the alumni. But you don't."

Rather than draw on their own experience, many alumni chapter members decide to get involved as they've seen the opportunities FFA provides for students and the varieties of activities in which they can be involved.

The groups help with fundraising but also provide time, training, supervision, "you name it," Anderson says.

"They're a great resource to have for our local chapters for their support," he says.

Ostrem was a big part of the push to start an alumni chapter in Rugby, N.D., in 2011. An FFA member herself while she was in high school in Rolette, she wanted the alumni group to support the students to provide them with all the opportunities of FFA involvement.

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Ostrem says the number of alumni chapters in the state has jumped quickly in the past five years. The names of all alumni groups are listed on the back of t-shirts handed out at the Winter Leadership Conference. At first, the shirts required a lot of filler; now the chapter names fill the back, she says.

On the local level, each alumni chapter is different, but many provide fundraising activities to support their student chapters. Often alumni groups provide judges for events.

"A lot of their work is seen at the local level, which is where our students are and where they need that support," Anderson says.

The state FFA alumni group puts on an FFA store during the state convention and holds a fundraising raffle at the state fair. Anderson says the group provides the funds to send 16 FFA members to the Washington Leadership Conference every year, among other awards.

Ostrem says the FFA store has become her main project, providing her with an opportunity to speak to parents and families of FFA students and sell them on joining an alumni group or starting one. A lot of the funds raised are "kicked back" to local chapters, Ostrem says. However, a big selling point has been that the state alumni chapter helps subsidize trips to the National FFA Convention for students who win at the state level - but only for communities that have an alumni chapter.

"Since we started the store, we have had several towns that started an alumni chapter," she says.

Ostrem stresses that anyone can join an FFA alumni - even people without a local alumni chapter. In North Dakota, they can join the North Dakota At Large chapter.

"It's just another resource for the students and the ag teachers," she says.

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Related Topics: AGRICULTURE EDUCATION
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