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Wabash Valley Power supports FFA conferences, youth leadership development

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As a kid, Blayne Vandeveer fed and cared for his family’s herd of boer goats when, in sixth grade, he listened to his mother’s suggestion – why not try out Indiana FFA?

That decision led him head-first into his Indiana FFA journey that includes a national award and a yearlong stint as Northern Region Vice President from June 2020 to June 2021. He is one of the more than 12,500 members of Indiana FFA who have benefited from opportunities with the organization. Wabash Valley Power Alliance (WVPA) has for the last several years sponsored a session at the annual Indiana FFA State Convention and three-day Foundations in Reaching Excellence (FIRE) conference that develop skills and leadership qualities in children and teenagers.

Blayne Vandeveer, who has been involved with Indiana FFA since sixth grade and served as the organization’s Northern Regional Vice President from June 2020 to June 2021.

“Our sponsorship of Indiana FFA supports future generations of leaders,” said Kara Baker, communications manager for Wabash Valley Power. “Many FFA participants go on to be instrumental in their communities and have successful careers.”

Vandeveer and his family are members of Carroll White REMC, an electric distribution cooperative that receives its electricity from Wabash Valley Power. Vandeveer’s first Indiana FFA contest was livestock evaluation, which features students working in teams to rank and market beef, sheep and swine. He participated in other activities, and his freshman year in high school was the National FFA Creed Speaking Leadership Development Event champion.

“Everyone has different interests that appeal to them, and FFA understands that and enables members to explore those opportunities,” said Vandeveer. “You have so many doors that are open to the organization, it’s a matter of picking and choosing what you want to try.”

He served as part of the Indiana FFA State Officers in 2020-21 that organized and hosted conferences for elementary and high school students. While the COVID-19 pandemic limited their ability to host events in schools, the FFA officers welcomed groups to the Indiana FFA Center in Trafalgar.

Indiana FFA officers met virtually with Wabash Valley Power Alliance employees Denne’ Smith (middle row, second from left) and Kara Baker (middle row, second from right) in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Indiana FFA officers faced a variety of challenges to continue developing programs and conferences for Indiana FFA participants during the pandemic.

“We went into the year as a blank slate with no expectations because we knew it was going to be a really challenging year, throwing in COVID into all of that,” said Luc Sproles, another Carroll White REMC member who served as an Indiana FFA officer during 2020-21. “We reimagined how do we keep some content the same and make it safe for our members, while putting our own spin on it to make it unique to us. We had to do a lot of social distancing and restructured some workshops and activities, and we moved some stuff outdoors.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced the Indiana FFA officers to organize another event on the fly – for the first time in more than 90 years, the annual Indiana FFA State Convention was not held at Purdue University. The officers organized and hosted the convention at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

Officers from Indiana FFA visit with Kara Baker, center, at the Wabash Valley Power Alliance building in Indianapolis. WVPA has sponsored Indiana FFA for several years; and Baker, who is communications manager for WVPA, also volunteers on the Indiana FFA Foundation’s board of directors.

“The state and national conventions give members that opportunity to explore and connect with members and see what they want to plan for the future,” Vandeveer said. “If they are interested in one contest in particular, it may be something to build a career on and they can gain experience and exposure that helps them to understand what that career is about.”

The Indiana FFA officers also volunteered in service events. The group worked with Circle City Relief, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit services agency, which Sproles and Vandeveer described as one of the most memorable experiences of their time as state officers.

“With food being such a basic necessity, nobody should go without it,” Vandeveer said. “It’s unfortunate that even within our state and within our communities, it’s happening at such a high rate.”

The FFA officers’ term ended in June, and this fall Vandeveer and Sproles enrolled at Purdue University; Vandeveer is majoring in agricultural economics while Sproles is an agricultural education major.

“Our sponsorship of Indiana FFA supports future generations of leaders. Many FFA participants go on to be instrumental in their communities and have successful careers.”

– Kara Baker, WVPA Communications Manager

“FFA is an amazing organization. When members put on the blue jacket, they know they are part of something bigger than themselves, and when they see a blue jacket they don’t just see another FFA member,” Sproles said. “FFA really gives participants a sense of community.”

FFA officers earlier this year met WVPA employees, including Baker, and learned about the utility industry and specifically what makes electric co-ops different. In 2020, Baker also began volunteering for the Indiana FFA Foundation’s board of directors and will serve as a mentor for a state officer in 2022.

“I am immensely impressed by the quality of leaders that FFA develops,” Baker said. “It’s encouraging to see students who work so hard and who are really passionate about leadership, agriculture and their communities.”