Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Ag kids prove giving back makes all the difference

Kim Holt Published on 01 December 2011
NJAA members at the National Junior Angus Show

From an 11-year-old who buys a steer at his county fair and donates it to the local food bank, to a high school senior who buys a heifer at her county fair to benefit a memorial scholarship fund;

from junior beef exhibitors who collect items at their state show to brighten the days of a cattle friend temporarily laid up by Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to a Missouri FFA chapter that donates its competition winnings to help rebuild the tornado-ravaged Joplin High School FFA chapter -- youth engaged in agriculture prove repeatedly how they care about others.

Story lines like these help prove that goodwill spread by these young people isn’t just saved for the Christmas giving season.

In fact, one national group, the National Junior Angus Association (NJAA), highlights the importance of giving back to its more than 6,000 members in the U.S. and Canada each summer.

For 10 years, the NJAA board has incorporated a community service project into both its National Junior Angus Show (NJAS) and Leaders Engaged in Angus Development (LEAD) Conference.

Each summer about 1,000 young people participate in the NJAS and LEAD, shares Robin Ruff.

Ruff, the director of junior activities for the American Angus Association, relays the mission of the NJAA is to build better future leaders for the beef industry and advocates for agriculture through leadership development.

NJAA members attending LEAD

The NJAA began giving back by collecting pop tabs to benefit the Ronald McDonald Houses. Members would bring the tabs to the NJAS, Ruff recalls, in all types of containers, even feed buckets and animal cracker jars.

It was a competition between states, so tabs were weighed. In 2010, 1,086 pounds of pop tabs were collected – that’s 10 50-gallon garbage cans filled to the brim for recycling – with proceeds helping Ronald McDonald Houses provide a “home away from home” at little or no cost for families with hospitalized children [see sidebar].

NJAA Chairman Clay Williams, of Bishop, Georgia, believes the growth of their pop tabs project benefited from the competition between states.

NJAA members attending LEAD

However, putting hands-on experiences and faces with the projects really helped drive home their purpose for NJAA member participants and they became more than “just a competition,” Williams relays.

In the summer of 2010, LEAD attendees collected and handed out backpacks and school supplies to flood victims at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee in Nashville.

“At the Boys and Girls Club, especially, we got to see firsthand the good we were doing,” Williams said, “because we delivered the backpacks ourselves.”

This experience provided junior members with a much different perspective that helped drive home the impact they were making on these children, many of whose families hadn’t much to start with – as junior members observed when they drove through downtown Nashville – and then had recently lost everything in the flooding.

Williams, a sophomore majoring in ag business at the University of Georgia, believes experiences like this point out how fortunate NJAA members and ag kids, in general, are especially from a family-oriented perspective.

In the cattle industry, friends young and old understand each other and are often considered as family. “It’s something we take for granted,” he said, adding, “Some people may not view farm life as the greatest life, but it’s what we love to do.”

He also believes ag kids are more involved in community-related projects, and that community service experiences like these help them be better prepared for the “real world.”

Williams remarked, “Any time I meet a great leader of my age, they have some connection to agriculture.”

Fifteen-year-old Hailey Collins, an NJAA member and junior Angus leader in her home state of Idaho, was also at the Nashville LEAD conference and helped Williams and others personally pass out backpacks.

Collins, from Meridian, Idaho, recalled, “It was so neat to see all of the kids there and to see their reactions when we gave them the backpacks. They were so happy that people cared enough to give them a great gift to be able to go to school.”

She said it “definitely” painted a new perspective for members like her. “Just to see how much the kids needed as opposed to us and what we have. It was amazing to see that we could all come together to deliver to them what they needed.”

The NJAA’s community service projects are an “excellent opportunity” to experience, she believes. “It always gives you a great feeling to know that you’re helping someone else.”

This past summer NJAA members helped out in different ways, which included the collection of pennies at LEAD to benefit the St. Louis Shriners Hospitals for Children, a medical provider to children with neuromusculoskeletal conditions, burn injuries and other special needs without regard to a family’s ability to pay.

Rock raffled off at the NJAS

At the NJAS in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, members brought items for men and women who are serving our country in the military.

These items were collected there by SOAR –Support Our American Recruits, Inc. – a non-profit volunteer-run program based in York, Pennsylvania, that assimilates, packages and ships care packages to U.S. soldiers overseas.

This philanthropy helped accommodate the NJAS theme, “Let Freedom Ring,” which honored Pennsylvania history and military ties.

According to Becky Bair, executive director, SOAR experienced a “great response of items and financial support” from Angus juniors.

Some 27 boxes of items were collected at the NJAS, as well as cards juniors had made ahead to accompany some of the 600 care packages SOAR sends annually to deployed troops around the world.

“Everybody giving a little adds up to an awful lot to help out,” Bair said. “The military gives so much and everything we can give back in return is just fantastic.”

She added that nearly $1,100 was raised by junior Angus members from Iowa to help defray postage costs for care packages.

The contribution included a patriotic rock painted and donated by Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, The Freedom Rock painter from Iowa, who also has roots in the cattle industry [see sidebar].

The NJAA’s leading and giving back by example has not gone unnoticed by state groups such as the Georgia Junior Angus Association of Williams’ home state.

As an 11-year member, he said their juniors are collecting pop tabs by counties for Ronald McDonald Houses and items for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. “I know the pop tabs idea directly came from nationals,” Williams shared.

“That’s the image we’re trying to give to our juniors – ‘you need to give back when you can.  end_mark


PHOTO 1: NJAA members at this past summer’s National Junior Angus Show loaded a Humvee with items collected by junior Angus members and their families for military care packages sent to deployed troops by Support Our American Recruits, Inc. Photo courtesy of American Angus Association.

PHOTO 2: NJAA members attending LEAD, this association’s national junior leadership conference, personally hand out backpacks and school supplies they collected for children at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee in Nashville. Photo courtesy of American Angus Association.

PHOTO 3: This rock was raffled off at the NJAS to benefit the SOAR program. Photo courtesy of Sorensen Studios.

PHOTO 4: Bubba Sorensen, right, was the celebrity showman of this steer owned by 13-year-old Claire Solsma, also pictured. The steer was shown and auctioned in the Governor’s Charity Steer Show at the Iowa State Fair. It benefits the Ronald McDonald Houses of Iowa. Photo courtesy of Sorensen Studios.

Ronald McDonald
House Charities®
Mission: To create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well-being of children. RMHC has a global network of chapters in 54 countries and regions and makes an impact through its three core programs: Ronald McDonald House, Ronald McDonald Family Room and Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. See their website for how to volunteer, donate and participate in the pop tab program.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Mission: To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Find a local club on their website.

Shriners Hospitals for Children®
Mission: To provide high-quality care to children with special health care needs, provide for the education of physicians and other health care professionals, conduct research to discover new knowledge that improves the quality of care and quality of life of children and families. The Shriners’ mission is carried out without regard to race, color, creed, sex or sect, disability, national origin or ability of a patient or family to pay.

Support Our American Recruits, Inc. – SOAR
Mission: A non-profit military support organization that organizes fundraisers within eastern Pennsylvania to help collect and provide goods and services for deployed troops. SOAR sends care packages year-round as items are available, and accepts monetary support, holiday cards and notes of thanks and appreciation to place inside. It will also add names of servicemen and women to its receivables list. See the website for more information.

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
Toys for Tots Program
Mission: To collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.

Who is Bubba Sorensen?
While he’s outgrown 4-H and youth beef cattle shows, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II continues to make a difference and give back, especially to our nation’s veterans and military, with his time and talents.

Sorensen, known as The Freedom Rock painter by many, painted and donated the “Let Freedom Ring” rock (pictured) for the Iowa Junior Angus Association’s rock giveaway at this past summer’s National Junior Angus Show. Proceeds benefited SOAR, the National Junior Angus Association’s community service project there.

He was the perfect person for this project which tied together his cattle background, love of patriotism and artistic talents, most notably as the painter of The Freedom Rock.

For the last 11 years, each May Sorensen has painted a patriotic mural on this large 60-ton boulder near his hometown of Greenfield, Iowa, as a tribute to our military men and women. His wife, Maria, says her husband has received much recognition for his work on The Freedom Rock, including appearances on national television and worldwide print media (

In fact, this past August, Sorensen’s family was one of several who sponsored a steer raised by 13-year-old Claire Solsma of Sanborn, Iowa, for the 29th annual Governor’s Charity Steer Show, which grossed $107,200 for the Ronald McDonald Houses of Iowa. The Charity Steer Show and Auction is annually sponsored by the Iowa Beef Industry Council and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association during the first weekend of the Iowa State Fair.

The event features celebrity showmen, such as the governor of Iowa, and Sorensen (pictured here with Claire Solsma) was the celebrity showman for Solsma’s Hereford steer, “Gilbert,” who was sponsored and purchased for $2,900 by the Progressive Hereford Breeders of Iowa.

Solsma raised and fed “Gilbert” and her family was part of the group who sponsored and then bought the steer for the benefit. Of her participation in this event, Solsma said, “You don’t really have a chance to do that every day. It was really fun.”

Doug Bear, director of industry relations for the Iowa Beef Industry Council, explains that it’s a privilege and honor for families to be involved in this fundraising event. “This is one opportunity where even our younger generation of beef producers is able to give back.”

Next year will be the Charity Steer Show’s 30th anniversary and Bear hopes they can eclipse the $2 million mark in total giving to the Ronald McDonald Houses. So far this program, with the help of caring ag kids, among many others, has generated $1.9 million to help comfort and raise the spirits of families in need of a home away from home.