Los Banos Future Farmers of America raises $20,000 to help send veterans to Washington, DC
This is about two Central Valley organizations doing a lot of good in our community.
Central Valley Honor Flight has made it possible for dozens of area veterans to see the memorials in Washington, DC that recognize their service to our country.
By arranging these cross country trips, Honor Flight mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to send the veterans off at the beginning of their special journey, and to welcome them back upon their return.
The Los Banos Chapter of Future Farmers of America, like many FFA organizations, nurture the passion young people have for agriculture and leadership.
We see them in their blue jackets with gold embroidery at the Merced County Springtime Fair and at other events.
In the fall of 2016, chapter members and their adult leadership were in Washington for a conference. At the same time, Central Valley Honor Flight was there taking veterans to various military venues.
Chapter leaders changed their schedule so they could meet up with the veterans. The Chapter paid for a wreath that was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
According to Paul Loeffler who works with Central Valley Honor Flight and is the radio host of Hometown Heroes, a program where many veterans share their stories,
“The kids were really moved by meeting our vets.”
That DC connection between the teens from the Central Valley and the veterans would change a lot of hearts, and motivate many volunteers to raise money for future Honor Flights.
“Watching those kids meet up with the veterans really moved us,” FFA adult leader Jim Orr told me.
After hearing a volunteer talk about how Honor Flight would continue providing trips as long as it could afford to, Jim and others came to a realization.
“Getting back on the bus that day, we thought about what that volunteer said. That’s when we decided we had to do something.”
Working with the area Veterans of Foreign Wars post, the local American Legion post, and other community volunteers, the FFA helped sell eighteen-hundred tickets at ten dollars apiece for a drive-through pasta dinner held in February.
With one-hundred percent of the dinner expenses donated by local businesses and community members, coupled with some cash donations, the dinner pulled the community together to raise twenty-thousand dollars for Central Valley Honor Flight.
Jim says it was great to see everyone pulling together.
“Veterans, high school ag kids, teachers, and parents were all working in one direction.”
The money will be used to help pay for the next mission to take a jet full of area veterans and their volunteer “buddies” to see the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War memorials. When time permits, other venues fill out their time in DC.
The veterans are thanked for their service. For many, this is the only period in their lives that anyone took the time to show appreciation for the sacrifices made to defend our nation.
Raising twenty-thousand dollars was a monumental task for the Los Banos FFA chapter.
But like the many challenges in farming, group members broke down the over-arching goal to manageable smaller tasks.
Little by little, this volunteer effort did the job and knocked the goal out of the park.
Honor Flight continues to draw more attention to the sense of gratitude many are trying to install when it comes to our military.
Recently, an episode of the popular CBS television series NCIS focused on an Honor Flight participant. The episode ended with information on how a viewer can support the national organization.
Central Valley Honor Flight focuses on regional veterans. The April 2017 trip features six Merced County veterans. Three are from Merced, two are from Livingston, and one is from Los Banos.
$20,000.00 is a lot of money.
But it takes a lot of money to fly these veterans across the nation.
A medical professional accompanies the group. Hotels, ground transportation, and meals all add up. The cost is about two-thousand dollars per person.
While each veteran is accompanied by a “buddy” who devotes his or her time exclusively on a particular veteran, the buddy is expected to raise enough money to cover his or her own trip costs.
The Los Banos chapter of Future Farmers of America takes their pride for these veterans seriously. Plans are already underway for the 2018 dinner.
These young men and women have a real appreciation for farming. But they also have a true desire to help others.
And that’s exactly what they did by helping Central Valley Honor Flight.
Hometown Heroes is a weekly radio show honoring veterans.
You can search their interview website at www.HometownHeroesRadio.com
For more information on Central Valley Honor Flight, visit http://cvhonorflight.org/
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
His book Finding Bill shares his search to better understand the military service of his uncle who served in Vietnam.