Every October, Miqui Sheffield takes a week of her life for young people in Nebraska.
Eleven times since 2006, the Farnam, Neb. woman has volunteered with the Eustis-Farnam High School FFA program, ferrying youngsters to the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis.
It all started in 2006, when she and her husband Mark volunteered to drive, as their youngest son, Randy, was part of one of the FFA teams that qualified for the national championships.
And after their sons graduated, she continued to travel with the team as a chaperone and driver.
It’s a 13-hour trip from Eustis to Indianapolis, and by the time the school vans arrive at the Lexington, Neb., exchange, the kids are studying. Chad Schimmels, the school’s FFA advisor, rides each team together, so they can study while traveling.
Cell phones come to the front of the van, Sheffield said, and students alternate their study for an hour, half an hour off, and so on.
Not only is Sheffield a driver, she is sometimes a substitute coach. In some years, Eustis-Farnam has more than one team qualify for Nationals (in 2021, two of the chapter teams qualified: the Food Science and Technology team and the Agronomy team). With just one adviser, Schimmels works with one team while Sheffield steps in to help the other team, listening to their presentations and asking questions similar to those the judge might ask.
Sheffield is quick to point out that other sponsors are helping too. Schimmel’s wife, Angie, is an assistant coach and travels with the chapter. Other sponsors and chaperones also do so, depending on the number of students who qualify for the national convention. Volunteers pitch in, attend coaches’ meetings and accompany students while Schimmels is busy with another group.
When Sheffield is not helping students, it looks for road construction, to ensure the road to and from the competition is clear. She also shuttles students between the two conference venues.
Young people usually depart on the Sunday before the start of the competition and stay in the Quad Cities area the first night. Schimmels has planned activities for them: visiting a meat processing plant, walking around the fields of the University of Illinois, identifying plants and other activities related to their studies. They arrive on Monday and spend all day Tuesday, an hour of work, half an hour of rest, all day studying. The kids are there to compete, Sheffield said. “There are fun things for them to do after the competition.”
Her younger sons, Bryan and Randy (she and Mark have an older boy, Kyle) have benefited from their involvement in FFA. Both boys attended junior college on the meats judging scholarships, with tuition and books paid for. “For me, I can repay the FFA program with my time.”
She has also seen what participating in FFA does for children.
“It’s such a great experience. FFA is changing their world in ways they never would have known without it. These children deserve to be there.
Young people consider her a friend. She has been invited to graduations and weddings and loves getting to know them.
But it all comes down to what FFA can mean to a student.
“I know how important it is for kids to get that experience, and I want to be a part of it.”
At the 2021 FFA National Convention, Eustis-Farnam had two teams finish in the national top 10. The Food Science and Technology team (Karissa Hodge, Natalie Malcom, Creighton Hecox, Skyler Oberg) finished in fourth place, and the Agronomy team (Grace Schimmels, Maggie Walker, Dallas Weitzel, Madison Woehrle) finished in sixth square.