by Sherman College student and DC2B Russell Goff
(pictured third from left in panel discussion photo)
“Learning to do, doing to learn.
Earning to live, living to serve.”
-The FFA Motto
Growing up in Wyoming afforded me many unique opportunities throughout my high school career. My all-time favorite experiences were the opportunities through the local FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America Organization). The FFA prepares today’s youth for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.
In the small schools in Wyoming, there are not many opportunities for high schoolers to get leadership training, business experience, or practice in public speaking. The larger schools may have a FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) or a Speech and Debate team; but for a large portion of the small schools in Wyoming, FFA is the outlet for high-achieving, aspiring youth.
Each year in high school, I waited in eager anticipation for one event: the Wyoming FFA Leadership Camp. This camp was so impactful on my life. I always looked forward to winding up switchback roads into the Shoshone National Forest up above Sinks Canyon State Park at about 9000 feet elevation. Nestled under the shadow of “Candy Mountain” at the Fremont County Youth Camp, FFA members from across the Wyoming gather for an intense week of leadership training, team building, and public speaking experience.
As campers arrive they pack their bags into their home for the week, small cabins that have no electricity nor heat, just four walls and a roof to sleep under. The cold crisp mornings are some of my favorite memories. The frost from the night before just begins to thaw as the sun comes up. A couple years it snowed several inches over the week!
If you did not know that the campers were FFA members, you would never guess that the FFA was an agricultural program. The students come from all types of backgrounds, from schools in the state capital that have 500 kids in a class to schools that serve small remote areas that have a one or two in a class; from the jocks to the nerd bombers, the rodeo kids, to the skater guys, each demographic is accounted for, and this diversity helps contribute to the dynamic of camp. And just as the students are not stereotypical farm kids, Wyoming FFA Leadership Camp is not a camp that focuses on agriculture. This camp is to build leaders of tomorrow.
Throughout the week, campers engage in different workshops to develop leadership skills, communication techniques, public speaking tools, and challenge their perspective on their roles in life. One of the most memorable workshops is the spider web challenge. Each group has a large spider web suspended between two trees that they must travel through; the kicker is that each hole in the web can only be used once.
The object of spider web challenge is to work on communication skills. The first time through the team simply tries to get through as fast as possible. After a couple of successful attempts, the rules are changed, and only one person is allowed to speak. After the team works through this new challenge, the group reflects, and the campers share what they learned in the process and how they can use this experience in their home, school, and community. These types of workshops are done throughout the week, allowing the campers to truly own their responsibility in becoming a leader.
Throughout high school, FFA camp had such an amazing impact on my life that I chose to continue as a counselor. I have been a counselor five of the past seven summers. The journey to developing premier leadership, personal growth, and career success is continuous. I now have friends from FFA camp that are in every walk of life: lawyers, mechanics, farmers, housewives, doctors, teachers, high school advisors, veterinarians, historians, engineers, livestock judges, firemen, the list goes on and on; those jobs not only represent farming, but also community leaders.
This past summer, I was very disappointed since I would not be able to be a counselor. There simply was not enough time to give up during my summer break. While I was visiting with one of the directors this spring, she shared that they were looking for past campers to share about their camp experience and how it impacted their career and life experience. I asked for them to throw my name in the hat for consideration. To my elation, they asked me to come up to the camp to share.
The five people sharing this year at camp included an attorney, a nurse practitioner, a NCAA wrestler, a physician’s assistant student, and me, a chiropractic student. It was a real honor to be able to share with the campers how the tools that I gained at camp truly helped form the path I currently find myself on. Others on the panel expressed very similar sentiments; this camp truly gave us the tools and experience that allowed for our success out in the “real world” past high school.
After the panel shared, we joined the campers and staff for banquet and campfire songs to end the evening. It was a real privilege to be a part of camp, especially since I was able to represent chiropractic while home at FFA camp.