National FFA Organization’s Washington Leadership Conference inspires students to lead, give back

Last summer, Sierra Coulthard’s life changed forever.

She spent a week identifying her strengths and discovering who she was. She learned what it takes to be a leader and how leaders can change lives. And the Wisconsin high school student realized just how real and rampant poverty is in the world today.

“My eyes were opened to so many troubles in the world,” she said. “I saw how real the needs of people are and I wanted to do something to help.”

Coulthard returned home and immediately connected with Nashville-based Soles4Souls, which since 2005 has secured more than 17 million new and gently used shoes for people throughout the world. The charity shipped her a large supply of new shoe boxes that she placed throughout her home town of Neillsville to encourage donations. Nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes were donated to the “Sierra’s Shoes” drive.

And last month, she was able to travel to Haiti and pass them out to deserving children who needed them.

Coulthard’s vision for the drive was developed at the National FFA Organization’s annual Washington Leadership Conference, which focuses on leadership development, personal growth and community service. More than 2,200 students – up to 340 a week – from throughout the U.S. who are FFA members will attend one of the conference’s seven week-long sessions in June and July.

“Students come to the Washington Leadership Conference wanting to make a difference. They leave knowing they can – and will,” said Dwight Armstrong, CEO of the National FFA Organization. “I believe students are generally aware of global problems like hunger and poverty but many are sheltered and disconnected from what’s happening in the world. During their time in Washington, FFA members experience real-world problems and take critical steps toward personal growth and developing leadership skills they’ll need to make a difference in people’s lives, starting in their own communities.”

Created in 1969 and held annually in Washington, D.C., the conference helps students develop leadership skills, identify personal strengths, develop awareness of societal differences and human needs and strategize how they can help others through community service. Throughout the week, each student develops a community-service initiative for their local community, with the intention of students returning home and implementing their plans.

The 2012 National FFA Organization’s Washington Leadership Conference is sponsored through the National FFA Foundation by Timberland PRO, Monsanto, CSX, TransCanada, Crop Production Services, Farm Credit and CHS.

“For 10 consecutive years, Timberland PRO is honored to sponsor the 2012 Washington Leadership Conference. We have worked closely with FFA to transfer our model of service to an organization whose focus is on living to serve,” said James O’Connor, vice president of Timberland PRO. “We look forward to participating with FFA members in various civic engagement activities in and around the D.C. area that will be focused on leadership and service learning.”

The conclusion of each weekly session of the Washington Leadership Conference is a Day of Service, where students work together on a real, hands-on community-service project. Last year, through each week’s Day of Service, students contributed a total of $85,283 worth of volunteer labor. Students packed, sorted and distributed more than 29.5 tons of produce and shipped more than 100,000 meals overseas.

This year, students will volunteer more than 9,500 hours to pack and ship thousands of meals to Nicaragua to help the third-world country battle hunger.

“Monsanto’s support of the Washington Leadership Conference reflects our sole focus on agriculture and commitment to American farm families,” said John Raines, lead of customer advocacy at Monsanto. “Monsanto has a long tradition of supporting agriculture youth through scholarships, education and leadership development programs. We are enthused to support FFA members dedicated to developing the leadership skills they’ll need to achieve success and personal fulfillment.”

For more, visit the Washington Leadership Conference online. Follow the conference on Twitter at #WLC2012.

“CSX is proud to support the participation of FFA members in this life-changing leadership development conference,” said Tori Kaplan, AVP, CSX Corporate Social Responsibility. “The Washington Leadership Conference is an awesome opportunity for students to learn how to become a visionary and develop their decision-making and goal-setting skills while expanding their understanding of agribusiness and participating in community service.  The experience and skills that students will learn will stay with them for a lifetime.”

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 540,379 student members in grades seven through 12 who belong to one of 7,489 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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