Hundreds of Midwestern kids, distinct in red and black attire, gathered this weekend in downtown Omaha for a regional convention intended to help them stand out.
The Family, Career and Community Leaders of America brought more than 2,500 students and advisers to the CenturyLink Center for speeches, presentations, competitions and other activities.
They were city kids and farm kids, kids from rural towns and suburbia. The organization strives to develop the leadership and communication skills of students, all of whom have taken classes in family and consumer sciences in their schools.
Dominique Cook, who lives on a farm west of Creighton, Neb., in the northeast part of the state, gave a presentation on the importance of agriculture. Cook, 18, attended a regional FCCLA convention in Oklahoma City last year and was surprised by the number of students who knew little about cattle and farming.
She wants to change that. “The United States was based, founded, on agriculture,” she said. “That’s what made America.”
Her family and consumer sciences teacher, FCCLA adviser Dixie Hanefeldt, noticed Cook’s appreciation of farm life and encouraged her to use the convention to speak for that profession.
Cook’s family farm includes dairy cows and beef cattle, and corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats and other crops. It’s hard work, she said, but it’s an essential profession that connects its families to nature and the land.
Rural life also breeds genuine communities. If she has a flat tire, people stop and help, said Cook, who plans to become an engineer.
Molly Bond, an Elkhorn High School senior, is gearing up for a competition that will help her strengthen her job interview skills. The Omaha-area 17-year-old intends to become a nurse anesthetist.
“FCCLA helps promote leadership while focusing on family and community as well,” Bond said. “I like how it’s preparing me for my future.”
The organization used to be called the Future Homemakers of America, but leaders changed the name in 1999 to better reflect the mission and the fact that the group is co-ed.
At the Omaha convention, attendees could learn how to prepare a chicken for cooking. They could learn about autism and hear from FCCLA members who toured Japan this year. They could attend a session on the danger of distracted driving and one on conflict resolution.
Executive Director Sandy Spavone said her organization helps students hone speaking skills and budgeting skills and enables them to set goals, explore careers and see what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Those who join have a chance to “step out and not be average,” Spavone said. That might take a bit of courage.
“It’s a positive risk,” Spavone said.
The group compelled Dominique Cook to share her knowledge of agriculture with many who have no concept of what farming is all about.
The organization, she said, “kind of empowered me to raise my voice and inform people.”