By Tony Hooker
As with just about everyone, the pandemic has brought on enormous challenges for the Villa Grove FFA Chapter. But, as they’ve always done, the chapter, under the assiduous leadership of Callie Parr, has continued to excel. She recently took some time out of her schedule to answer some questions about the chapter’s present, past and future.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced over the past year?
The uncertainty of the constantly evolving environment has been the hardest thing to cope with. It has been very challenging to make plans and conduct FFA chapter activities when we never know what restrictions we will be working around. The second hardest thing is maintaining a sense of community with our members when we can’t all be together. FFA and agriculture operate much more in the realm of tactile, hands-on, and in person. The students we engage don’t do well in theoretical and virtual settings. So it’s also been very hard to keep that sense of camaraderie and keep members engaged and motivated.
Have these challenges forced changes in the way you’ve operated? How?
We as a chapter have had to become flexible and adaptable. We make tentative plans, adapt on the fly, and use a lot of last minute social media updates. For example, we planned the appreciation breakfast, making all the necessary adaptations for social distancing. And then school went full remote for two weeks and we had to move everything back a week. So there was a lot of sending last minute emails and notifications to get the word out to all our supporters that the date had changed.
We’ve also refocused out activities to the local level. Normally we would spend time and quite a bit of money attending state and national conventions. This year, since those activities are not occurring, we spent the time and money on community service building projects. We built planter boxes for the plaza in Villa Grove and planted native prairie plants at Walnut Point State Park. Now we are building book walk displays for the Camargo Township Library.
How many students are currently involved in FFA? Who are the officers, and what strengths do they bring to their position?
This year the Villa Grove FFA has 30 members on the roster. We have maintained fairly steady enrollment over the past 2-3 years.
Our chair is Lydia Howard. She is our parliamentary expert. She brings organization and an inclusive, fair-minded attitude to all our meetings and events. Our executive secretary is Alexa Howard. Alexa is the most detail oriented, on point student I have worked with. Public relations is filled by Maci Clodfelder. Maci brings a lot of creativity and positivity to our officer team. Hailey Stutz fills the role of fundraising and finance. She brings energy and drive to our chapter. Luke Zimmerman is the human resources officer. He is about as steady and even keeled as they come. Nothing rattles him. Will Jones is our farm operations officer and he brings knowledge. Will knows how to do just about anything we need done, and what he doesn’t know, he finds out.
What activities have you planned for FFA week, and how are they going?
We have themed days for each week. America Monday is to focus on the nationality and patriotism that FFA promotes. Tractor Tuesday has fun with the ongoing debate, “which is better, Case or John Deere?” Well-dressed Wednesday gives us an opportunity to wear official dress and promote our professionalism. Thankful Thursday focuses on our appreciation breakfast and hat day. Hat day is the event that raises awareness of food insecurity in our community and also raises money to help support our Snack Pack Program. Farmer Friday is our chance to reflect on the history of FFA and our production heritage.
Do you have an idea of when things will be returning to normal? Will you be participating in competitions and fundraisers such as ag days this year?
If I could predict when things would be “normal” again, I’d be rich! I’m not sure things will ever be the way they were before COVID. But that doesn’t mean that things are all bad. We are blessed with an enormously supportive school and community that has helped us adapt in so many ways. We have forged partnerships with the Villa Grove Chamber of Commerce, Villa Grove City Council, and the Walnut Point State Park manager that never would have happened if we hadn’t had to break out of our normal routines.
We are participating in contests virtually. We won our Section Forestry contest and placed third in State Forestry. We had one participant in Public Speaking. We are currently practicing for the Parliamentary Procedure contest. Virtual contests are not nearly as fun as in-person, but it’s better than missing out all together.
We are doing the fundraisers and events that we are allowed to do by the health department. So Ag Field Day is still on (minus the food items) because we can space all the elementary students out and hold it outside. If Villa Grove has an Ag Days Festival, FFA will be there with our corn booth!
Is there anything you would like to add?
If you see a Villa Grove FFA member, congratulate them. They have been resilient, positive, and are bringing their chapter through a very challenging time. We are not just surviving, we are thriving.