PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The Pittsfield FFA chapter recently was recognized as the 2017 National Premier Chapter in the Building Communities category.
Representatives of the chapter recently attended the 90th National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, where it was presented with the award.
"What I love about it is, it's for the whole chapter," Pittsfield FFA adviser Jody Heavner said. "It's every student that walks through the door."
The Pittsfield FFA chapter has about 140 members. Heavner said it has reached the top tier of the award before but has never cracked the top 10 and "certainly never won."
"Our students have done a great job," Heavner said.
Each of the chapters that reached the final 10 delivered a presentation on three of its most impactful community-oriented projects during the convention. Representatives of the Pittsfield FFA chapter spoke on the chapter's Heroes Among Us project, which honors active-duty service members deployed across the United States and overseas. Heavner said the chapter has done a lot of work for veterans, but when students began asking why nothing was being done for current service members four years ago, Heroes Among Us was born.
Heroes Among Us signs were created -- the Pittsfield FFA worked with a Bloomington company that did the work at cost -- and hung outside the Pike County Courthouse and along surrounding streets. The 2-foot aluminum signs bear the names of local service members who were deployed. FFA members used social media, the local newspaper and other community sources to compile the names of active-duty military members in the community. Heroes Among Us is an ongoing project.
"I'm absolutely amazed," said Kristen Sibley, Pittsfield FFA chapter and FFA Section 13 president. "We weren't expecting a win."
For Sibley, the Heroes Among Us effort was particularly significant. Her brother recently returned from a 13-month deployment in the military, and she plans to join the Air Force after completing her undergraduate studies.
"This shows people in our community do care whether our military personnel come home," Sibley said. "It's been very impactful."
Also discussed during the presentation at the convention were the Pittsfield FFA's tree replacement and Corn to Capitol projects. The FFA chapter has been replacing storm-damaged trees in Pittsfield; it has replaced more than 150 trees during the last five years and maintains them. This is also an ongoing project.
Earlier this year, the Pittsfield FFA and Agriculture Leadership Students presented House Bill 470 to the Illinois House Agriculture and Conservation Committee. The bill designated corn as the official state grain of Illinois and was signed into law in August.