Bill Jimmerson is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
I have always enjoyed working hard and being passionate about the things I care about. It is hard for me to believe that a shy country boy who grew up on a family farm in central Montana is heading to Washington, D.C. to receive an award as a Champion of Change! After all, I attended a one-room elementary school and did not even have a classmate until I went to high school. The most important decision my family made at that time was to send me to the high school which had a respected National FFA Organization. That single decision set me on my way to the career that has brought me to the White House.
After deciding as a junior in high school to follow in the footsteps of my FFA advisor, Mr. Jim Schultz, I was on my way. Mr. Schultz always emphasized that community service is “the rent you pay for living on this planet” which I have incorporated into every aspect of my life. My high school FFA members were always involved in some sort of activity to improve the community. From building bleachers, benches, a gazebo for an elementary school, and a shelter at the local golf club my students were learning the importance of providing a helping hand to make their community a better place to live.
The National FFA started a program called Project PALS (Partners in Active Learning Support) many years ago and I encouraged my local FFA chapter to get involved in this, which they did. High school FFA members are paired with designated elementary students to help those youngsters with their self-esteem and help them learn. This program continues today and is the most honorable community service program in which I involved my students.
On my very first trip with my new State FFA officers in 2005, we stopped at an elementary school on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to ask for directions to the high school. The principal, a Native American dressed in a suit and tie, was out front so I pulled up beside him and told my young FFA state officer to ask him directions to the high school. He was reluctant to do so. That got me thinking. With 5 FFA chapters located on Indian reservations in Montana, why not start a program to get Native American FFA members more involved so all FFA members can respect each other more and eliminate the bias that exists? Therefore, the FFA/American Indian program exists in Montana. I designed it so any chapter can put together a program about their culture and customs, bring it to the state FFA convention, and be judged with the winner getting the opportunity to take their program to the National FFA Convention. A year ago the National FFA honored Native American culture at their convention and allowed me to help with the planning of that event. Through my Montana program, I was very honored to get to know a former member of the Browning FFA chapter and the current Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, Earl Old Person, who honored me with my own Indian name, “Morning Eagle.” I arranged for him to attend the National Convention and speak on behalf of all Native American FFA members. I am proud that this program has helped a few more young people find a positive avenue for their life.
As an honoree of the Champion of Change, I can personally attest that this is one of my highest honors ever, and I encourage others to always be passionate about their community values and understand that this is what makes America the greatest country on the planet!
Bill Jimmerson is a retired educator who served for 32 years as an Agricultural Education teacher and FFA Advisor in Montana.