The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Success with Scholarships and Grants


February 19, 2020

Investing in their futures with a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) in Animal Systems, Torin Cecrle, Shyla Benzing, and Ben LaVelle are recipients of SAE grants from the National FFA Foundation.

On Wednesday, February 5, Advisor of the Chinook Chapter of the FFA, Robin Allen learned that three of her members: Shyla Benzing, Torin Cercle, and Ben LaVelle had received SAE Grants from the National FFA Foundation to start a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) in Animal Systems. Allen also reported receiving grants from the Masonic Foundation and the Montana FFA Foundation for upgrades to the welding stations in the Chinook High School shop. On February 13, she learned she had also won a Living to Serve Grant from the National FFA Foundation.

According to Allen, an SAE is an important part of FFA and agricultural education, but many students run into financial barriers as they work to complete their chosen projects. This is where SAE grants can help. SAE grants, each in the amount of $1,000, are available to qualifying FFA members in grades seven through twelve who demonstrate financial need in either starting or expanding an SAE project. The SAE grant committee evaluates each application, which must be submitted online and show that the project fits in at least one Agriculture Food and Natural Resources Pathway.

From the National FFA Foundation, Benzing received $1,000 to start a herd of Highland cattle, and her goal is to see how this classic Scottish breed-famous for its distinctive appearance-performs in North Central Montana.

The hair on the Highlander is always long, sometimes reaching about thirteen inches, with a slight wave. Their coat is double-layered, with the outer oily hair serving to prevent rain from reaching the skin while the downy undercoat provides warmth during harsh winters.

These coat features-although an advantage in their native Scotland-can be troublesome for Highland cattle bred in other countries. Warmer climates can be stressful for the cattle, since their heavy coats can contribute to overheating.

Because Highland cattle retain their body heat by having a thick coat and not by storing excess fat, their meat is quite lean. Studies show that their beef is about 38% lower in fat than that of other beef breeds, although still well-marbled. The meat is also 4% lower in cholesterol and contains high protein and iron levels.

"I was happy to learn about the money I received since I will be able to start a breed that is quite rare for this area, and I want to do something that no one else is doing" Benzing said.

The aspiration is part of Benzing's SAE in Beef Production. She plans to acquire two bred heifers and then to grow her herd from there.

Cercle will also be making progress on the Beef Production pathway, but she hopes to start her own herd of Black Angus cattle. Cercle described the SAE Grant as opening a door of opportunity.

"I will purchase a heifer to start and pay my parents for a bull's services for the first year, but once I begin to grow my herd, I will purchase a bull of my own. I am excited for this chance to actually begin a ranch. I will start small and go big," she exclaimed.

LaVelle expressed similar excitement, as well as a sense of relief. He hopes to raise show pigs and develop a proficiency in raising hogs. "An SAE will allow me to purchase livestock and feed so that I can invest in my future. Without the financial support, I would not have had this opportunity to learn," he said.

Any active Montana FFA member who will be an active member the following school year (grade 7 through 11) is eligible to apply for an SAE grant. The SAE is one of the components within the three-circle model of Agricultural Education. Through SAEs-which are required and intended for every student-students can explore career opportunities, gain work experience, and develop specialized skills. An SAE is required as an FFA member works towards obtaining a Chapter FFA Degree with the National FFA Organization. All grant recipients are required to submit a mid-year progress report by June 30 detailing the use of the grant funds.

"Grant recipients are held accountable for making progress with their projects, and that makes them more likely to achieve their goals," Allen reported.

In addition to several students receiving financial gifts, the Chinook High School Vo-Ag program received a $3,000 grant from the Montana FFA Foundation and another from the Montana Masonic Foundation (MMF) Educational Grant Program. Allen plans to invest these funds in upgrading the welding stations in the high school shop. She hopes to purchase welders that will enable the youth to perform the three most common welding processes-Stick, MIG (Metal Inert Gas) and TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas)-all in the same booth. Her ultimate goal is to add oxygen-acetylene capabilities to each booth as well.

Knowing the importance of selecting the right tool for the job, Allen explained that when it comes to welding, the process chosen is every bit as important as the tools themselves. Different metals will require different techniques or materials, and some situations demand the clean, intricate work of TIG. Other times, a simpler method like MIG or Stick works better.

Allen learned about this grant opportunity at a teacher's in-service meeting last August when the Grand Master of Chinook's Masonic Lodge #50, Larry Surber, and Lodge Secretary, Ben Hall, invited public school administrators and educators to submit applications.

According to the MMF, their Educational Grant Program is intended to help with those needs in district general budgets or areas of student enhancement or learning that often suffer cut-backs or experience start-up concerns.

Allen also applied for and was selected to receive a National FFA Living to Serve grant in the amount of $800.00. Living to Serve Grants provide an opportunity for FFA chapters to seek funding to support various types of service projects through a competitive application process by identifying a community need that falls within one of four focus areas: community safety; hunger, health and nutrition; environmental responsibility; or community engagement.

The grant, a semester-long variety, will enable the Chinook Chapter of the FFA to partner with the local Garden Club to grow the flowers for the planters along Indiana Street in Chinook.

Allen reported that the Chinook Garden Club has merged with one in Havre, so she has been working with former Family Consumer Science teacher Karen Covert for this project. FFA members will sow the plants in the school's greenhouse, and then a collaborative team will replant them later this spring into the barrels to beautify main street.


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