Thursday, January 26, 2017

Animals Help FFA Students Find Confidence, Passion

Annual Show & Sale Set for Feb. 10-11

Spring Branch FFA President Abby Cline (left), Vice President Kate Sparenberg, Emily Valicek, and Jamie O’Quinn, a Spring Woods High School senior, in a barn with Cline’s steer, Joe DiMooggio.
Abby Cline and Kate Sparenberg found Future Farmers of America at different points in their lives, but the difference FFA has made in their lives is palpable.

Cline, a Memorial High School senior and president of the Spring Branch FFA, has a family tradition of FFA and first got involved as a junior member as an eighth-grader at Memorial Middle School.

Sparenberg, vice president and also an MHS senior, discovered FFA as a sophomore while taking agriculture classes at the Guthrie Center, SBISD’s career and technical education facility. She’s since learned that her grandfather and his brothers were involved in FFA.

Cline, Sparenberg and some 80 or so of their FFA peers are busy preparing animals for the upcoming 39th Annual Spring Branch FFA Show & Sale, set this year for Feb. 10-11, at the FFA’s Ag Farm at 1905 Brittmoore, just north of Hammerly.
The main barn at the Spring Branch ISD Ag Farm at the 2016 Show & Sale.

Students show their animals for judging on Friday, Feb. 10, beginning at 2 p.m. The sale kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, with buyer check-in and the opening of the silent auction, which includes student food, photography and creative arts projects, as well as gift certificates and other items from local merchants.

The main event is the live auction, which begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11. The auction has been described as similar to an auction at the Houston Livestock Show but on a smaller scale – including a smaller crowd and easier parking. Breeds shown and sold include chickens, turkey, rabbits, lambs, goats, steers, heifers and pigs.

Excitement permeates the show floor and bleachers on both days as FFA students whoop it up and encourage one another – and buyers too.

“I like to be around members when they show,” Cline said. “It’s such a nice vibe with all this support … all the support in the bleachers is very nice.”

FFA is a national organization that develops student potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The Spring Branch FFA Chapter, housed at Guthrie but operating for more than 50 years at the 17-acre farm on Brittmoore, includes students from Memorial, Northbrook, Spring Woods and Stratford high schools, and Westchester Academy for International Studies.
Spring Branch FFA officers address the Board of Trustees at the November meeting.

The local chapter is sponsored by ag teachers Bobby Terry and Katie Thompson.

Organizers invite everyone to the Show & Sale, whether buying an animal or not. Animal buyers can keep their purchase (processors are available on-site) or donate it back for resale. Students received 90 percent of the sale proceeds – the additional 10 percent supports other educational opportunities, helps underwrite the Show & Sale, and provides scholarships. The Show & Sale is sponsored by the Spring Branch FFA Alumni Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and all purchases and contributions are tax deductible.

The event raised more than $210,000 last year, with Grand Champions selling for between $1,200 and $9,000, depending on breed. All livestock projects are sold, no matter their placement in the competition.

Buyers’ Committee Chair Kristin Valicek said she’s invited more than 1,200 potential buyers, including the 360 or so from last year. Buyers can register up till the day of the sale.

Valicek’s three children are involved in FFA – son Alex is the local chapter’s sentienl – a natural progression from seven years of participation in 4-H. Valicek is a believer in the power of FFA.

“Truly, anything a student wants to do can … generally FFA can accommodate,” she said. For instance, her daughter Emily, a third-grader at a local private school and a junior member of the Spring Branch FFA (residency in the district is the only requirement) will have three projects in the show this year – a hanging basket, an apple pie and a drawing.

Walking around the different barns and pens at the Ag Farm, it’s evident that Cline is a key piece of that support. She takes on the role of big sister with Buyer Chair Valicek’s daughter Emily. Before entering “Ham Heaven” – where pigs are stalled, she’s approached by several students who ask different questions, which she happily answers.

Moving from barn to barn, Cline checks in with students who are working on their animals, asking questions and offering support and encouragement. There’s little doubt that she’s one who’s looked up to.

And that’s part of the FFA experience. Both she and Sparenberg cite confidence as a one of the biggest takeaways from the program.

“Honestly, it’s kind of my life,” said Cline, who spends several hours of each class day at the Ag Farm and a significant portion of her free time as well. “It’s given me confidence and a sense of belonging. I love being out here.”

Sparenberg said that while not as obvious, she has gained confidence in herself through FFA. She said she was “kind of shy” before getting involved with FFA, and that it was raising animals for show that really helped her take off.

“You’re out here twice a day (when raising an animal) – you get to know other people,” she said. That confidence propelled her to run for office (she’s vice president), and she said that she “wouldn’t have gotten as many friends” without her involvement in FFA.

And that’s not to say she’s only FFA – she’s not, not by a long shot. She’s treasurer of the National Technical Honor Society. She’s played violin in orchestra since middle school. She’s in the National Honor Society, the Memorial Mustang Outreach Bunch (MMOB) – and a member of the District Improvement Team.

But it’s in FFA where she found her best friend – she and Cline will room together at Texas A&M in the fall. Sparenberg wants to be a veterinarian. Cline said she thought she wanted to become a veterinarian but after taking a couple of veterinary medicine classes has discovered that it’s “not her passion.” She’ll major in something agriculture-related but is undecided right now.

Naturally. Both students credit the animals for stimulating and holding their interest in FFA.

“I mostly joined because of the animals,” Sparenberg said. “The animals are a great incentive.”

Cline agrees.

“I really love the animals,” she said. “They’re the biggest part of what I do.

“They’ve helped me find my passion.”


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