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Embrace Change

Ridge Howell is a high school senior in Checotah, Oklahoma. He was first inspired to create change and empower youth in his community after an Oklahoma State FFA Convention. Since then, Ridge has helped plan an annual Senior Citizens' Prom hosted by his high school student council, orchestrated a town wide "trash off day," created a Senior Citizens' Lawn Mowing Program through his agriculture education course, and initiated many more programs throughout his community.

 Ridge HowellRidge Howell is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.

Let me start by saying how honored I am to be chosen as a White House Champion of Change. I find it incredible to be recognized for something that I enjoy doing. I believe making a difference starts at home through a willingness to embrace change. While sometimes viewed as negative, change is often a really positive thing. Our future depends on change that will be sparked by the youth of our country, one family, one community, one state, one country at a time. In order to really champion change, American youth need to be encouraged to lead and to serve. My goal is to spark this desire in other youth in my hometown and to spread this desire to create change around the country.

I was first inspired about four years ago after my first Oklahoma State FFA Convention.  The primary theme of the convention was to create positive change in our own communities. I learned that I had the opportunities to impact change if I would just seize those opportunities.   Upon returning from the convention I immediately started planning how I could practice making positive changes in my community. I decided to throw myself into community work; this would provide the best opportunity to champion change. Over the next three years, I became involved in every aspect of the community. I found that there are always new and better ways to do things and began seeking out opportunities to make a difference. The first event that I really had a hand in improving was the annual Senior Citizens’ Prom hosted by the Checotah High School Student Council. This project is exactly what it sounds like, a prom for the senior citizens of my community (and yes they do wear tuxedos and formal dresses, and the lady’s always have their hair done). This was a great way to involve many students in a fun way, and it naturally made me want to come up with more and more community service projects!

I helped orchestrate and work a town wide “trash off day” where my fellow FFA members and I hauled off about nineteen tons of trash and debris that had accumulated following two severe ice storms. One of my longest term community service projects is the Senior Citizens’ Lawn Mowing Program. I helped my agriculture education instructor create this program a little over three years ago. Each week during the summer, my fellow FFA members and I go to the local senior citizens’ center and draw two names. These two individuals are the recipients of a free lawn mowing service and sometimes other types of assistance around their homes. The best part of this program is the time spent with these elderly citizens, listening to the stories they tell while we are working. I have learned so many valuable life lessons from their knowledge and wisdom, beyond what I could ever learn in a classroom setting. 

The project I’m most proud of was developed within the last year, following a grant application submitted by my agriculture education teacher. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, my FFA chapter was selected for a National FFA “Food for All” grant. This grant gave my FFA chapter $2,500 dollars to plant a community garden. As the incoming chapter FFA president, I was able to help build this program from the ground up. To date we have picked over 1,680 pounds of produce including vegetables such as  squash, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, jalapeno peppers, and eggplant. Through many hours of hard work the garden is still producing today. The produce is taken to our local senior citizen center and distributed to the citizens there. This is another great chance to gain knowledge and wisdom from the elders of my community and to learn more history about my community and my Native American culture.

I’m so thankful for the honor being bestowed upon me and realize I would have never had this opportunity had it not been for the continual support of my agriculture education teacher, Jason McPeak. This man is an example of community service and inspires me to be a service oriented citizen. If I could leave you with one thought, it would be a quote from Aristotle that says: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

Ridge Howell is a high school senior in Checotah, Oklahoma.