Four Madison County, Georgia students traveled to Indianapolis recently and walked away with the fifth-place plaque in the National FFA Poultry evaluation "Career Development Event" (CDE).
"We all truly wanted it," said team member Isabelle Williams, who was named the high individual in the written exam. "We wanted to win, and we worked so much with each other that we knew what we were good at, what we struggled with, and how to help each other through challenges."
Williams was joined by George Parham, Devin Self, and Joshua Black, who was named high individual in the shell egg grading for interior and exterior factors.
Participants in the poultry CDE select live meat-type chickens for broiler breeding, evaluate and place live egg-type hens, and rate the finished product by evaluating and grading ready-to-cook carcasses and parts of chickens and turkeys.
The Madison County team members got a boost from HireSmart Cares, which helped cover their travel expenses. HireSmart assists the next generation of farmers in a variety of ways, including covering travel costs for students to agriculture-related competitions.
HireSmart Cares recently donated $50,000 to the Madison County FFA to expand the high school ag barn, allowing more students who don't live on farms to raise livestock and learn career skills in ag.
Williams, who is interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian, said poultry judging success is about "paying attention to the small details" and helping each other.
"That's the big factor in poultry judging — picking out all the defects from various poultry products," she said. "We have to judge individually, but then we would all share our suggestions on ways to improve and avoid missing things."
Williams said participation in ag activities helps youth understand all the work that goes into food production, which she said is often overlooked.
HireSmart hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new generation of farmers. "No farms = No food" is a succinct message that strikes home for HireSmart co-founders Mark and Anne Lackey, who commit to doing whatever they can to support youth and their ag career development.
If you support that aim, consider donating to HireSmart's ag initiative here.
HireSmart Supports Top FFA Ag Communications Team in the U.S.
Katie Carrouth and her teammates, Abbi Adams, Anna Moon, and Anna Kate Mathis, laugh at the video of their surprised faces when they learned that, "Yes!" they're the best in the nation.
The Madison County FFA Ag Communications team earned first in the U.S. at the 96th Annual National FFA Convention and Expo.
"All of us were so shocked, and since then, we've all re-watched the clip so many times, just laughing at our own expressions," said Carrouth. "It was super sweet to have that moment filmed so we can all remember it."
Adams, who placed sixth overall in the individual competition, said the moment was intense.
"To me, it felt we were the only people in the room," she said. "All of my senses were both heightened and subdued at the exact same moment. It was a feeling I had never felt before. When they announced the second-place team and we realized we had won, I remember a feeling of shock. It wasn't until we left the stage that my sobs began, and I realized my hands were numb from stress."
The quartet got a boost from HireSmart Cares, a nonprofit focused on helping youth develop job skills, which provided grants for Madison County FFA members, including the ag communications team, to cover costs associated with the trip.
A primary focus of HireSmart is encouraging youth involvement in agriculture, which involves spreading the word about career options and the relevance of ag in so many aspects of life.
That's also the focus of ag communications teams — providing the public with a greater understanding of agriculture.
Adams, a student at Wesleyan College majoring in English education and minoring in communications, said the importance of ag communications often goes overlooked.
"Without agricultural communications, nobody would know anything relating to the agriculture industry," she said. "'Ag Comm' hopes to create advocacy and transparency. It is important for the future of the agriculture industry as it will help connect consumers to farms and major corporations."
Carrouth, a singer/songwriter and music producer getting a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Georgia College and State University, said the agricultural communications focus in high school "allowed me to branch out and try more things that challenged me which has helped tremendously at college."
She wasn't raised on a farm, "so I always felt a bit left out of that sector," but she has relatives and peers in agriculture.
"I saw the need for bridging the gap between non-traditional and traditional agriculturalists through activities of the FFA such as the agricultural communications CDE," said Carrouth.
She added that reaching consumers to educate them about agriculture is "one of the most important things for the agriculture industry to focus on."
Adams and Carrouth said the team's first-place finish in the U.S. was a byproduct of the companionship they felt as they worked toward a shared goal.
"The four-person team dynamic is really special because it allows four separate approaches to creativity to be combined into one cohesive project," said Carrouth. "This competition is a lot of work and has many parts to complete, so having a team like ours is super important. As far as taking first place, I feel that it comes down to our passion for it. We all wanted to do well, so we put every ounce of effort we could into it. We are also very good friends, so teamwork skills came naturally."
Adams said the "contest brought us closer than we ever imagined."
"While we worked through every step of the way, we understand each other as well as the vision we hoped to create," she said. "We practiced compassion while simultaneously holding each other accountable… We wanted to keep practicing and tweaking the fine details because we wanted to be the best, and we didn't quite know what that meant at a national level. We all care about this contest so incredibly much. We didn't only want to win for ourselves; we wanted to win for each other."
HireSmart Cares applauds the FFA team for their commitment to each other and their hard work toward a shared goal. If you have a workforce development idea and would like to share it with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute to our efforts to help today's youth be tomorrow's leaders, click here.
T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7…Madison County High School's drone program is about to lift off with help from HireSmart Cares.
High school students will see the town of Danielsville from above the treetops in months and years to come as a new JROTC drone program opens their eyes to the latest in aerial technology and its applications in the employment world.
"I'm excited for them (the students)," said JROTC First Sergeant Francisco Ramey, who oversees the MCHS program with Col. Robert Stuart. "I know it's going to take off. It's going to be awesome."
Ramey and the cadets accepted a $4,000 check from HireSmart Cares after the MCHS Veterans Day program Nov. 9 for the new drone program. The 25-year military man and 10-year JROTC instructor in his third year at MCHS said the grant will make a big difference for local students.
"It (the grant) means support," said Ramey. "It means individuals out there really want to support our dreams and goals for our future. I've been to several different educational institutions, and it was the opposite. But support is outstanding here in Madison County. Everybody says, 'What can we do to help? What do you need?'"
The instructor thanked first-year MCHS principal Christy Epps for supporting JROTC and its newest endeavor. JROTC students chanted, "Dr. Epps! Dr. Epps!" at the check presentation ceremony and also roared when HireSmart co-CEO Mark Lackey, accompanied by his co-CEO wife, Anne, announced the $4,000 award from the nonprofit, which focuses on providing the next generation with an array of workforce development opportunities, such as learning about aerial technology.
"I talked with First Sergeant and said we'd be happy to support the drone program, and so I'm presenting First Sergeant with a check for $4,000, and it's for every one of you to learn a skill, whether it's in the military or private industry," said Lackey. "Drone operators are in big, big demand. You can create a whole career out of what you'll learn here and have fun doing it."
Ramey said 90 of the 139 cadets in the JROTC program and about 40 students who are not in JROTC have expressed an interest in participating in the drone program.
"If it (the drone program) excites them about coming to school, if it excites them about being in class if it excites them about possibly looking at another avenue of employment upon graduating high school, then we're just going to have keep pushing this thing," said Ramey, who envisions expanding the program to the middle and elementary school level in years to come.
An experienced drone operator, Ramey said he's consulting with existing JROTC drone programs to learn from them so "it can be a little more seamless for us." Epps secured a charter grant through the school system to purchase drones for the program. MCHS will use three levels of drones: beginner, intermediate, and professional, and start with 17 initial drones.
Students will learn a wide range of drone skills. They'll work as teams to run missions, using coordinates to photograph specific items. They'll pick up and deliver packages. They'll learn how to utilize grid coordinates, mapping, and programming. They'll see how math applies to drone operations.
"We want to teach them how to set up command centers and how to set up relays," he said. "It's going to be great."
A number of public safety services are using drones to quickly scout emergency situations to determine what response is needed. The First Sergeant added that potential jobs in drone operations are vast and growing. He spoke of aeronautical first responders, aviation applications, recreational opportunities, construction, real estate, photography, cinematography, firefighting, and information technology uses.
"This is not going anywhere," he said of the need for drone operators.
The HireSmart grant will allow JROTC to purchase replacement parts and drones when needed and fund travel for the cadets to learn about drone technology. Ramey spoke of a trip JROTC will take in June to the Florida Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
"I'm trying to let them understand how the dots are connected in the aeronautical and aviation field," he said.
Ramey said the drone program fits into the bigger vision for JROTC, which he said is helping today's youth better themselves, feel pride in a job well done, and learn about all the opportunities they have to succeed while improving the world around them. JROTC teaches students about leadership, and Ramey said he's proud to see programs, such as the Nov. 9 Veterans Day ceremony, directed by JROTC students, not the instructors.
Ramey envisions a job placement program at the high school. He loves to see students learn new skills and return to Madison County to teach the next generation, and he anticipates that happening with the drone program.
"Let's get out of the mindset of the JROTC just being a military program," he said. "We're trying to teach life skills and help them find what they really want to do. We want to give them viable options."
The First Sergeant said the drone program melds in-class learning with the opportunity to get outside and view the world from new angles.
"I'm a hands-on learner, and I see that with these kids, too," he said. "That's why I always believe in, 'Hey, let's go outside. You should see this!"