While most FFA chapters across the nation center their activities around livestock and farms, the chapter at Nimitz High School zeroes in on another critical pillar of the organization – service.
Earlier this month, the school’s six FFA officers and two sponsors weathered the frigid temperatures and drizzle for six hours to remove an aged ramp. In its place, they built a brand-new 48-foot version outside the front door of a resident who uses a wheelchair in Oak Cliff through the Texas Ramp Project. The nonprofit builds wheelchair ramps for disabled or elderly people who cannot afford to buy one.
“Our FFA organization is not like a normal FFA,” says Cullen Caldwell, a Nimitz senior who serves as reporter for the Nimitz FFA. “We don’t show animals, and we don’t have a farm on our property. For us, it’s not about showing animals, it’s more about the community. Even if it’s not the community right outside of our school, it’s about the community aspect of helping.”
The day of service began at a warehouse in Farmers Branch, where students loaded the lumber and tools needed for the project. The students then traveled south to the project site.
“It was so old and about to fall apart that we were able to rip it out by hand,” says Caldwell. “We didn’t have to use any tools.”
Leaders with the Texas Ramp Project then walked the students through the process of drilling, screwing and hammering.
“The people that were there through the organization were very helpful,” says Nimitz senior Jessica Porter, who also serves as president of the Nimitz FFA chapter. “They led us the whole way through, telling us what we were doing, showing us how the engineering part of it worked because you have to slope it down slightly, instead of just going straight down.”
While students were able to hone their carpentry skills through this project, they walked away with greater life lessons on the importance of service.
“We went out there on our Saturday, and it was really cold, too,” says Porter. “But our six hours of volunteering will help this person for years and years and maybe even decades – to get out of their house and be mobile. The smallest sacrifice of your time can help someone for a very long time. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
“Even the littlest things matter, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal,” adds Caldwell. “Our project was really big, but when we took out the ramp, we picked up trash underneath it. Even that little task was important and shows what you can do to make that difference, even if you don’t think you can, even if you’re not building a ramp every weekend. There’s always something you can do to help others. Doing projects like this makes you think, ‘what else can I do to help?’.”
In addition to Caldwell and Porter, others who volunteered were sophomore Melissa Cruz; juniors Madeleine Marrero and Anthony Arellano; senior Brinn Jackson; and teachers Carole Gowan and Aaron Reindel.
To learn more about the Texas Ramp Project, visit TexasRamps.org. For more information on Nimitz FFA, follow them on Instagram at @nimitzffa.area5.