FFA chapters in Pike County tap grant funds to promote animal welfare, prevent cruelty

Posted: Mar. 18, 2013 11:02 am Updated: Apr. 1, 2013 3:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A kindergartner feeding a camel isn't a common sight in the Pleasant Hill School District. Neither is a Western High School student in the doghouse under construction in the ag shop.

Both came about thanks to funding from a Pike County trust.

The Richard L. Gray Perpetual Charitable Trust, with Farmers State Bank as the trustee, recently awarded more than $53,000 to the FFA chapters at high schools in Griggsville-Perry, Pittsfield, Pleasant Hill and Barry (Western). Each school received $200 per student enrolled in FFA to fund efforts for the prevention of cruelty to animals and to promote the welfare of animals.

"The bank, serving as trustee, is pleased to be able to help promote the care and (humane treatment) of animals in Pike County, while following the wishes of the late Richard Gray," bank president Lewis Grigsby, Jr., said in a news release.

For the FFA chapters, the grants came as a welcome surprise.

"Usually you come up with these fantastic ideas, then figure out how to come up with the money," Western ag teacher and FFA adviser Mary Barnes said. "This is putting it on the other side of the coin. We got some money. What kind of fantastic idea can we do with this? It's a good problem to have."

Western's FFA chapter used an earlier grant from the trust to build doghouses donated to the county animal shelter to give away to new dog owners, then decided to do a similar project, using a very small amount of the new $16,000 grant, with freshmen students learning how to use equipment in the ag shop.

Paige Malone had no experience with tools but liked working on the doghouses.

"It's fun," classmate Donovan Schwanke said.

"It's helping animals and learning skills, being able to problem-solve using what we have to build a project," Barnes said.

How to spend all the grant funding hasn't been decided in Western or the other districts, but the students will be involved in the decision.

"It's a significant amount. We want to make sure we use it wisely and do things that are going to create a lasting impact within our school district and within our community to educate them about animal care and prevention of cruelty to animals," Griggsville-Perry ag teacher and FFA adviser Chris Miller said.

"We want to be able to do some educational opportunities through the community as well. We have discussed the possibility of some type of educational event to tie all the four schools together in the county, combining resources."

Gray, a farmer who lived in the northern part of the county, had a deep respect for animals. He wished to establish a permanent fund to provide for the care of animals and to prevent cruelty to animals in Pike County.

Grigsby said projects the schools might consider would include building animal shelters, buying educational modules promoting animal care and safety around livestock, as well as sponsoring an event that teaches animal skills and training.

Miller said his FFA chapter, which received $10,000, wants to buy a set of small laptop computers to give students access to electronic materials on animal care, livestock production and animal science. He added that "there may be some field trips down the road that we haven't been able to do in the past."

Ag teacher and FFA adviser Jody Heavner said he hopes the Pittsfield High School chapter, the county's largest with 112 students, hopes to add more vet tech curriculum and expand his animal science equipment, as well as do more outreach with grade schools.

Pleasant Hill's FFA chapter, which received $5,200, reached out to pre-kindergarten through fourth graders with a petting zoo supplemented with a camel and llamas from a nearby farm.

"We thought it would be an appropriate use of the money to see how the animals are cared for, animals our students don't have," ag teacher and FFA adviser Beth Arnold said. "Not too many FFA petting zoos have a camel."