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By Madi Kregel, OCJ field reporter
Family traditions run deep in the FFA and, for many FFA members, there once was a time where they watched an older sibling wear the blue jacket. That was the case for 2020-2021 Ohio FFA State Secretary Joe Helterbrand from Hillsboro.
His older brother, AJ Helterbrand, was a state officer in 2011-2012. Joe was just a little boy at that time, but says that he still remembers going to watch his brother at the state convention that year. He said that first opportunity to witness the convention is what sealed his interest in FFA.
“With my parents, they said that you had to try it out for at least a year and if you didn’t like it you didn’t have to stay in it through your high school career. But I chose definitely to stay with it and to definitely get more involved through FFA,” said Joe Helterbrand.
Though his family has a tradition in FFA, Joe’s 2020-2021 FFA state officer experience has been anything but traditional. Joe and his team probably have the most unique memory of becoming officers. He recalled talking with his teammates about what had happened when the 2020 officers were announced. The ballot came out on Thursday and a virtual zoom call was set up for the candidates in the constitutional offices. Joe said getting to know his potential teammates via zoom was “really interesting.”
“It’s been a crazy year, but we’ve all been trying to adapt, and we’ve all been trying to serve as best we can throughout this year. I never thought that I could be so close to people without being near them,” he said.
FFA members faced challenges that no one else had faced before this past year. Ohio FFA did it’s best to hold CDE competitions and function in ways that adapted to virtual learning. While most FFA functions were virtual or modified to fit COVID-19 precautions, Ohio FFA did hold their FFA Camp in person. At one point during the camp, those involved with other career technical organizations, such as Distributive Education Clubs of America, Incorporated (DECA). Joe recalled making connections with a DECA advisor.
“I talked to her about my aspirations as an individual, and I told her I wanted to be a teacher. I was in between wanting to be a science teacher and an ag teacher. And she talked to me and said that her husband was a science teacher, and she gave me his information and said that I could talk to him if I ever had any questions about being a science teacher,” Joe said. “So the connections that you can make in FFA stick with you forever. All of those connections can help you achieve those personal development goals that you really want to have. As an FFA member you are always making connections no matter what. Even if you think that you’re not, you’re always with new people and you’re always making those connections.”
For FFA families, members and state officers, the FFA organization is more than the competitions and classroom education — it’s a way to gain lifelong connections in the agriculture industry. Joe recalled one of the first connections he made in high school after the Ag Sales competition.
“My junior year I participated in that competition. I made it through the judging, and after the competition I went up to the judge and asked how I did and what I could do to get better,” Joe said. “I was really appreciative of the feedback she gave me, and also she gave me her business card — which I still have and she said, ‘If you ever think about doing anything in the ag sales industry or if you ever need any information about the ag sales industry, just give me a call.’ And that was something that I’ve always really appreciated.”
Joe likes to offer some advice that his FFA advisor gave to him.
“FFA is like a bank, you get out of it what you put into it. And I think especially now that’s so true,” he said. “Sure there aren’t as many opportunities, or those opportunities may not be as fun right now. But those friendships and relationships you make, even though you’re doing some fun activities, you’re still developing those professional and personal development skills.”
The value of those skills and relationships has come to fruition in the life of another Helterbrand family member who served as a state officer. Joe’s older brother A.J. married Liz Overholt — now Liz Helterbrand. Liz served as the 2013-2014 Ohio FFA State District 8 President. Liz had two older brothers who were active members. She says they are the reason she became interested in taking ag classes.
“It became my turn to get involved, and I was right from the get-go of high school,” she said.
She spent her time participating in a number of CDEs, proficiency competitions, served on the parliamentary procedure and ag sales teams in her chapter, and eventually served as the chapter reporter her junior year of high school, and then the president of her chapter her senior year. But the goal to be a state officer was always in her mind. She said “early on” in high school, she knew she wanted to run for a state office. Gaining experience from the many contests she participated in, and serving as an officer for two years, Liz found her niche.
“I really enjoyed the leadership aspect of it, I enjoyed the service to the organization, and the fellowship of the people I had met in the FFA. So a state office seemed like a really great path for me,” she said.
When it comes to school and serving as an officer, Liz said it’s a “balancing act” of officer duties, academic work and social life. During that balancing, the state officers are learning skills and preparing for different events, such as FFA Leadership Nights, FFA Camp, and the State FFA Convention. As soon as the officers are elected, they go through training to help.
“You refine your skill set that you had prior to office,” Liz said.
Some of those skills include event facilitation and planning, speech writing, and personal development.
“The underlying thing there, is a lot of those skills that you’re developing early on as a state officer in June, and May, and August, will stick with you far beyond your year as a state officer,” Liz said. “When I was a state officer we talked about etiquette. We went to an etiquette dinner. We did different trainings about facilitations and presenting in front of people. And that stuff has translated into my current career.”
Liz currently works in admissions at Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Agricultural Technical Institute campus in Wooster.
“I am in classrooms constantly working with students that are coming into college,” she said. “So those skills that I learned as a state officer in facilitation, workshop development, presenting — all of those things go hand in hand with what I’m doing in my position.”
And the value of her state officer skills goes beyond her career.
“I really do think organizations like FFA develop those soft-skills for students. Obviously going on as a state officer takes that a step further and refines those soft skills. But you can really tell when students were in FFA and have developed interviewing and public speaking, and just having that etiquette and how to carry themselves,” she said. “I think the FFA does a great job in really carrying students into that next stage of life.”