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New California FFA leaders strive to meet challenges    

A new slate of state FFA leaders in California will support agricultural education amid a challenging time for farmers. The officers were elected during the 87th annual state FFA Leadership Conference in Fresno, attended by more than 5,000 high school students. 

Tim Hearden, Capital Press

FRESNO, Calif. — California’s new FFA president says the youth organization has a key role in bringing agriculture’s message to urban residents amid all the challenges facing farming.

“The members of FFA are going to be the ones who are the future farmers,” Joelle Lewis of San Luis Obispo said in an interview moments after being announced as the new state leader for the next year.

“I’m just excited to meet all of the members and get to know” fellow leaders, said Lewis, who was the South Coast Region president for 2014-2015.

Lewis leads a slate of new officers elected at the 87th annual California FFA Leadership Conference, held April 18-21 at Fresno’s convention center complex. More than 5,000 high school agriculture students attended the conference, whose theme was “Reach Out.”

Lewis was among 59 candidates for state office, including 35 who were interviewed and 12 who were named as finalists. She is joined by new Vice President Sydnie Sousa of Tulare, Secretary Breanna Holbert of Lodi, Treasurer Trevor Autry of Nipomo, Reporter Danielle Diele of Merced and Sentinel Tim Truax of Turlock.

In remarks during the last of six rock concert-like general sessions in Selland Arena, Lewis urged fellow members to take whatever inspired them during the four-day conference back to their hometowns.

“Whatever that moment was, don’t let it stay here in Selland Arena,” she said. “Use what you heard to help everyone around you.”

The new officers were announced after each of the outgoing state leaders had taken turns giving heartfelt speeches about their time in office. Each also had their parents and advisers on stage to thank them in moving tributes.

Outgoing president Dipak Kumar of Tulare spoke of his admiration for his father, a doctor who moved the family from what was then war-torn India to the Central Valley and planted almonds, walnuts and pistachios.

He said his family’s experience taught him to use challenges as well as good fortune to help others.

“In life, each of us has been given something,” Kumar said. “No matter the nature of what we have, we can choose to have amazing outcomes.”

Haley Warner of Angels Camp, the outgoing vice president, noted that people today “live in a world of words” in texts and social media and urged her fellow members to use words constructively.

“The power of our words is stronger than we know,” she said. “Those words — our words — can cut deep and they leave scars. But I have seen people empowered to do more because of the helpful, constructive words that people said to them.”

Kumar and Warner were joined by their fellow 2014-2015 officers — Secretary Sierra Bryant of Templeton, Roman Waskiewicz of Elk Grove, Reporter Ellen Van Noy of Grass Valley and Sentinel Luis Sanchez of Gonzales — in ceremonially retiring their trusty blue-and-gold jackets amid wild cheers and tearful embraces.

The conference also featured National FFA President Andy Paul of Lexington, Ga., who urged members to take “the second step” after joining by committing to service.

“Once we take step after step after step after step, we can climb the highest mountains,” Paul said on April 20.

In all, FFA has more than 76,000 California members in 315 chapters — a significant portion of the 610,240 members in 7,665 chapters nationwide, according to conference organizers.

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