PARIS, Mo. -- The Paris FFA chapter has been named the 2017 National Premier Chapter in the Growing Leaders category.
The top national award was announced during the 90th National FFA Convention and Expo last month in Indianapolis.
"It's a dream come true," said Josh Bondy, an adviser for the 90-member chapter in the Paris R-II School District. "It's always been a goal that we've been working toward."
Bondy said the national award is a tribute to the students and leaders who work hard to make the FFA program successful.
"Our FFA chapter is kind of the backbone of our school," he said.
The school went 10 years without an FFA chapter -- from 1989 to 1999 -- before the community rallied to bring the chapter back to life, said Bondy, who started working with the program in 2007.
The chapter has proven itself to be a worthwhile venture, he said.
"We've been really pushing to make sure that this is the premier chapter in our school and community," Bondy said. "The values and morals that the kids learn in FFA I don't believe they can get anywhere else."
The National Premier Chapter award was based primarily on the Paris FFA's Beef Up Reading initiative, which was carried out in February.
Under the program, Paris FFA members urged elementary school students to get excited about reading. Chapter members challenged the elementary kids to read for 90,000 minutes in a month. As an incentive for reaching that goal, the elementary students were told they could throw fake "cow pies" -- made from chocolate pudding -- in the faces of FFA officers.
"It was pretty cool," Bondy said.
FFA members felt a commitment to help the students become better readers because many of those children "are going to be in the FFA in the future," Bondy said.
During the National FFA Convention, Paris FFA members Molly McGee and Aly Francis made a presentation on behalf of the chapter. They told judges how FFA members came up with the idea for the reading program and told how it was executed. McGee said they also explained "how we felt it made a big impact on the elementary school and ourselves."
McGee said she couldn't believe her ears when the Paris FFA was declared the winner.
"When they announced our name, I broke down in tears. I was so happy," she said.
McGee said the success of the reading initiative was "an eye-opener" because it showed the impact an FFA chapter can have when trying to help others.
"We might only be in high school, but if we work together, we can make a difference -- not only in our own lives, but in the elementary students' lives, as well," she said.