Every community is different and requires unique solutions to the challenges they face. The National FFA Organization believes in the value of community service as a means of addressing local concerns, while also understanding the need for service to be situation-specific and collaborative. Unifying these perspectives, FFA established Living to Serve, a competitive grant program that funds FFA chapters’ service-learning projects and allows students across the country to propose service projects that are tailored to the needs of their own communities.
Living to Serve pushes students to experience community service in a new way. Instead of one-off volunteer events, FFA members engage in long-term projects, building reciprocal relationships with their community partners while also engaging in hands-on learning. Throughout their semester-long or year-long project, students complete intentional and structured reflection that helps them to fully absorb their experience.
CoBank, a cooperative bank serving Farm Credit associations throughout the United States, as well as agribusinesses and rural infrastructure providers, is excited to partner with National FFA to provide a multi-year sponsorship of this program.
Sarah Tyree, vice president, policy and public affairs at CoBank, said, “As a member of the Farm Credit system, CoBank is committed to supporting rural communities and this national youth program fosters positive action in rural communities in many different ways.”
CoBank’s three-year, $450,000 grant will support the continued expansion of this popular program, increasing the number of grants to FFA chapters seeking to address issues of: community safety; hunger, health and nutrition; environmental responsibility; and community engagement.
From Hawaii to Florida and everywhere in between, students embrace the flexibility of Living to Serve, adapting and improving their projects as the needs of their community continue to evolve. In Iowa, members of the North Linn FFA chapter noticed that food banks in their communities were not receiving sufficient donations of protein. Taking inspiration from Heifer International, they applied for and were granted a Living to Serve grant, which they dedicated to raising and donating chicken eggs to the local food bank. This received positive results, which motivated the students to expand their program to pork donations as well. Living to Serve provided North Linn FFA students the opportunity to address food insecurity in their community, while practicing their animal science skills in the process.
In Puerto Rico, the Jose Emillo Lugo FFA chapter also sought to address food insecurity. They planned to do so by promoting fresh, local produce in school lunches. However, soon after receiving their grant, Hurricane Maria devastated the island. These students recognized the opportunity to use their grant money to serve a more immediate need. They repositioned their project to focus on food production and taught students how to grow their own food to ensure food access in the case of another natural disaster.
Looking to the future of the program, Sarah said, “I hope to see FFA chapters across the country continue to develop a variety of innovative solutions to address the needs of their local communities. Every community has different assets. The beauty of Living to Serve is that it provides the level of support that the students need to think creatively.”