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Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Every summer, Washington D.C. is turned blue and gold as FFA members from across the country travel to the nation’s capital as participants of the Washington Leadership Conference (WLC). The conference focuses on developing students into motivated citizens who desire to make a difference in their home communities. This year over 2,000 students attended including Ashley Garlick, a senior member of the Evergreen FFA Chapter in Fulton County and Gracie Hinkle, a junior member of the Highland FFA Chapter in Morrow County.On the first day of the conference, FFA members were introduced to the idea of citizenship and what it means for them as high school students. They began to meet one another and learn about what their week would entail. For many students this was their first time in a big city and nerves were still pretty high.“When I first arrived to WLC, I felt very overwhelmed. I knew that my experience was based on how social I was going to be, I just took one deep breath and started talking,” Garlick said.On day two of WLC, all 300 students loaded onto the D.C. metro and traveled to Arlington National Cemetery. They got to see the Changing of the Guard and the somber setting inspired discussion about their purpose. This was followed by an afternoon of considering needs the attendees could address in their home communities and then a visit to the National Mall to admire monuments and memorials.A trip to D.C. wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Capital building and on day three students had the chance to meet with their local Representatives and/or state Senators and tour the Capital. That afternoon, students discussed why diversity is an essential part of being an engaged citizen and what that looks like. They learned more about their fellow conference attendees and begin developing what’s called a “Living to Serve” or LTS plan. This plan focuses on an area they hope to improve in their local community and what actions they can take.Hinkle chose cyber bullying as her LTS plan focus.“Cyber bullying is a problem back in my home town and my passion is to spread the kindness even if it is the littlest bit, because that can start a chain reaction in a school, or a community,” she said.Garlick’s LTS plan is focused on feeding the people in her community.“Every year our FFA packages around 30 meals for people in our area during Thanksgiving,” she said. “I know more need our help, but we do not get to hear about them. I want everyone to engage in a meal everyday like I can.”Day four of WLC was focused on the topic of advocacy. Students traveled into the city to visit the Newseum, a museum focused on the First Amendment and they applied what they learned there to positively advocate for agriculture, FFA and their local communities. By the end of day four, attendees had completed their Living to Serve plans and had determined how they could best serve their hometowns.On the final day of the conference students participated in a service project, packing meals for families right there in Washington D.C. This summer 424,457 meals were packaged through the hard work of FFA members. Students were also given time to explore the city and make stops at the White House, Smithsonian museums and souvenir shops before they wrapped up their time in the nation’s capital.“I am very glad that I attended Week six of WLC. My roommates and my community group changed my entire life. Just what I want to achieve and how I see myself changed,” Garlick said. “They had no idea who I was, yet they supported me from the moment I stepped through the door.”Hinkle also had a life-changing experience while in D.C.“I am overjoyed that I attended and I couldn’t have asked to be around a more dedicated, caring group of individuals. The impact WLC leaves on an individual is amazing,” Hinkle said. “The whole time you are there you can’t help but smile even in the early mornings or the late nights, because they keep you pumped when you need it, but also bring you to a level to reflect on the awesome day you just had. WLC has been an absolute blessing in my life, I now have the courage and the power to do something great, big or small.”Every summer, Ohio is well represented at the Washington Leadership Conference. More information about the 2018 conference dates can be found on the National FFA Organization’s website.
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