Impacting FFA Members – One Summer at a Time
FFA members representing Alabama gaze at the Washington Monument back dropped with a gray sky.
The Washington Leadership Conference is an annual seven week, five day conference for FFA members from across the nation. Each week a different group of FFA members flood into the nation’s capital to join other FFA members in a unique leadership opportunity. These students gather together to improve themselves, their chapters and their communities. The best way to have a true grasp of what WLC is all about is to take a look through the eyes of an advisor, a facilitator and a FFA member. Hopefully the following stories of how this leadership conference had impacted these individuals will spark a curiosity in other FFA members, advisors and supporters.
Albertville High School’s FFA Advisor Gary Aycock attended WLC this year and was asked about his participation throughout the years.
"I have attended Washington Leadership Conference 13 times in my 20 years of teaching," he said. "I have taken state officers, district FFA officers, chapter officers and members from various chapters throughout Alabama. I have always looked for FFA members who have the drive and dedication to improve. Although the expense is high to attend, many FFA members have returned confirming that WLC is a more rewarding experience than a National FFA Convention trip."
The conference is built on the following four themes: self-awareness, diversity, advocacy and service. WLC is not just a conference or a tour of Washington. Participants learn what servant leadership is all about. FFA members dive into our nation’s history and explore the lives of our founding fathers. If you enjoy helping others and have a talent for leadership, WLC would be a great opportunity for any FFA member. WLC is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for FFA members to explore our nation’s capital, make friends from across the country and serve others.
FFA members from across the country take part in the annual National FFA Washington Leadership Conference.
"FFA members always come back exclaiming that WLC is a conference unlike anything they have ever experienced," Aycock added.
This conference challenges the members’ thoughts, words and actions, and entices them to grow into a better person, leader and servant. FFA members come home wanting to improve their chapter, community and themselves.
Pell City Advisor Brittney Hill was a WLC facilitator during her college years and knows more than anyone the ends and outs of the conference.
"After serving on the nominating committee that selects national officers, FFA staff mentioned the applications were available and encouraged us to apply," Hill recalled. "I had a friend from my chapter who was also interested and we agreed we would both apply. It was unusual that we were both selected since we were from the same school. I thought that working for National FFA, all expenses paid, living in our nation’s capital for a summer and getting to positively influence FFA members from across the country was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite part; there are memories of each week that stand out in my mind! In particular, on the final night of the conference each week, students in our community groups could share their personal highlights of the week, how they feel they had grown as a leader, etc. It was awesome to see students who were quiet or unexcited at the beginning of the week come out of their shells or realize their purpose. As facilitators, being able to see the difference the experience made in our students helped us to know that God had placed us at WLC for a reason.
"I didn’t really have any expectations about what I would gain from being a WLC facilitator. It wasn’t until the summer was over that I realized how impactful the experience had been. Meeting students from across the country who were united by a passion for FFA and living to serve gave me hope for the next generation of leaders. Our weekly service projects involved picking up trash along the Potomac, gleaning from fields of corn or kale for food banks or cleaning up former homeless dwellings. This experience opened my eyes to what the world was like outside of my little college town or hometown and helped me to be more compassionate to those who are truly in need. As I began teaching, I was able to use the facilitation skills I learned before and during WLC. Helping a group of 30 teenagers navigate the city and subway system, along with teaching the curriculum, prepared me for the classroom more than any education class I took in college.
"I wanted the students in my group to leave the conference more aware of their purpose in FFA, more prepared to be a leader in their home communities and more willing to serve the needs of those around them. In addition, they left with friends who they still keep in touch with over seven years later."
Arab High School senior Lauren Whisenant was able to attend this year’s conference and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
"I attended week seven of the Washington Leadership Conference this past summer," she shared. "As a senior in high school and FFA member, I can confidently say WLC has been the most impactful part of the National FFA Organization."
This year’s conference was centered on citizenship. What a great theme considering the conference was held in our nation’s capital. Throughout the week, participants defined diversity, advocacy and how our purpose can better our communities.
"Diversity day was my favorite part of WLC," Whisenant explained. "On this day, we looked at how different we all are and simulated life as those who live in a third-world country. This experience was incredibly eye opening, making each participant realize how blessed we truly are and how we need to make a difference for those outside the United States."
Another amazing part of WLC was the people you have the honor to meet. Whisenant’s roommates were from Kentucky, Ohio and Texas.
"It was so cool getting the opportunity to discuss how their chapters operate and how each state’s FFA association is different," she added. "I also had the opportunity to meet FFA members from Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, California, New York and the list goes on."
WLC also allowed FFA members to explore Washington. It was this small-town girl’s first trip to our nation’s capital. While there, the participants toured Arlington National Cemetery, the Capitol, a variety of national monuments and memorials, and experienced the Newseum. The Newseum is an interactive museum of news and journalism. It is a seven-level, 250,000-square-foot museum featuring 15 theaters and 15 galleries. My advisor and the three of us from the Arab chapter got to go to the top of the Washington Monument and also the Holocaust Museum.
"WLC was life-changing," Whisenant commented. "I am so blessed and ecstatic that I had the privilege to attend this conference. I love sharing my experiences with other FFA members and motivating them to become a part of FFA in their chapter, county and state."
For any FFA member who might be thinking about attending WLC, don’t let an amazing experience like this pass you by. Your life will be forever changed.
"Through this FFA experience, I have friends and memories that will last a lifetime," Whisenant concluded.
As you can see, the Washington Leadership Conference is a truly life-altering experience that can benefit anyone involved with FFA. No matter your background, WLC is growing the future leaders of FFA and of the world. Now, who’s ready to go to WLC next summer?
For more information on Washington Leadership Conference please visit the National FFA Organizations’ website www.ffa.org or www.ffa.org/participate/conferences/washington-leadership-conference.
Hannah Black is a member of Arab FFA Chapter and the Alabama FFA State Reporter.