Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

The National FFA Organization’s Living to Serve Program Provides Youth Members with Community Preparedness and Leadership Values

Today, it is estimated that children under 18 made up 24 percent of the total United States (U.S). population. In times of disaster, research suggests that youth, specifically school-age youth, tend to be more severely affected by disasters than adults and may experience disasters differently due to age and other factors. Prepared individuals and communities recover faster after disaster strikes; so, involving youth in preparedness, recovery, and response efforts today can help to ensure communities are better prepared and able to respond when faced with disasters or emergencies. The FFA Living to Serve Program does just this.

FFA Logo: link

Each year, FFA engages with over 100,000 youth and 3,000 adults (advisors, community partners, first responders, parents, and alumni) throughout their Living to Serve Grant Program. While every FFA chapter engages in service-based projects, the Living to Serve Program mainly focuses on the importance of service-learning – experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection. In turn, students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.

To FFA, service engagement is critically important to their mission. Typically, community service projects are short-term assignments managed by adults – providing an immediate need or impact. With service-learning, projects are student-led and focus on thoughtful, connected plans to meet an authentic need in the community projects can take anywhere from a semester to a full year and can be grown and expanded across the community.

Over the years, there have been many different types of service-learning projects FFA chapters have endeavored across the nation. One of the focus areas of the program is Community Safety –allowing FFA members to integrate their leadership skills and classroom knowledge into addressing real life services and needs when their communities need it most, including times of disaster.

Earlier this month, Hagerty Consulting was able to talk with Michele Sullivan from FFA to learn more about the Living to Serve Program, specifically how the program supports communities in their preparedness for and recovery from disasters.

“FFA chapters across the country are creating disaster plans to help the animals in their communities during natural disasters, ranging from hurricanes, floods and wildfires to threats to their schools. Their responses are often essential to weathering catastrophic events and rebuilding in the aftermath of a tragedy,” said Michele.

Additionally, she described some extraordinary disaster-related service projects performed by FFA chapters across the country:

  • A chapter created a plan for saving livestock during the 2017 Camp Fire in California;
  • One created disaster kits for each of its chapter’s classrooms dubbed “run-hide-fight bags” to be used if an intruder comes into the school; and
  • Another assembled tornado preparedness.

Read on for more of our discussion with FFA:

What is something you feel is often overlooked about the FFA and the Living to Serve Program?

Michele: Many people do not know that the last line of the FFA motto is “Living to Serve”. Right now, students and members are already changing the world through service, leadership, and agriculture. We do not have to wait for them to grow up to be leaders. They are already leading in their communities.

FFA is spread out across the country; so, how can young leaders/ potential members get involved?

Michele: Letting youth know about the Living to Serve Platform is the first step! We have great resources on our website that can help them get started. We have an interactive planning guide that walks them through how to plan a service project. They need to share this with their FFA Chapter to gain interest in tackling a service project. Once everyone is on board, we share ways that their chapter can get funding to support both their community service and service-learning projects.

What do you find most rewarding about the Living to Serve Program?

Michele: The most rewarding things, for me, are providing opportunities for our students to remain connected to their community. I love that there is often a paradigm shift with adult community members who once viewed youth as needing service to now viewing youth as providing service. There is nothing better than to get feedback from our programs on the positive impacts to the community, youth, advisors and even school districts.

Additional resources

While FFA is not an immediate disaster response or recovery service, they assess the needs of their community members and always encourage others to be prepared. Additionally, on their website, they feature farm safety tips to make sure that FFA members know how to respond to  rural safety hazards.


Michele Sullivan, Senior Manager of Local Engagement, National FFA, is a distinguished senior level manager with over twenty years’ experience in community engagement and development, service-learning, and grant management. In her thirteen years with FFA, she has managed a team that has provided quality programs, opportunities and resources for the over 700,000 FFA members across the country to put their leadership into action through service.

Sarah Herchenbach is a Marketing Associate and Proposal Writer with Hagerty Consulting, Inc. In this role, she has assisted on several proposals related to disaster recovery services, Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (MJHMGP), and comprehensive disaster preparedness management services. Through her role as a Marketing Associate, she has led Hagerty’s Situational and Status Blog, offering timely updates on major events and disasters impacting communities across the United States (US) and helps coordinate the firm’s larger external communication efforts.