COLUMBIA CITY — At the end of the evening when tables were cleared, the signature blue corduroy jackets were hung, and supporters left with stomachs full of homegrown goodness, more than $35,000 was raised for the Columbia City FFA program, surpassing last year’s amount of just less than $30,000.

The hearts of FFA Boosters were full and members wore proud smiles realizing the supportive community came together once again for the long-standing successful program.

An event that began last year, the Blue Jacket Bash was designed as a fundraising opportunity for Indiana’s longest continuous running FFA chapter at Columbia City High School. While the theme for the evening was “Hoosier Homegrown,” featuring locally sourced foods, the true homegrown focus was on the stellar quality of kids the program continues to produce and impact.

Seniors Maddie Schroeder and Devin Baker took to the podium to highlight what FFA meant to them, as well as accomplishments for the chapter.

“FFA has taught me how to be passionate about something, truly care about it and what it involves. We continually face challenges as a family farm, a chapter and as a community; passion brings us back and keeps us pushing forward. With the spark of the passion and competitiveness that we’ve found inside of us, it has fueled our desire to be more competitive in everything we do,” Baker, who is part of a fifth generation family farming operation in Whitley County, said.

“There is a saying that goes, ‘it isn’t the farm that makes the farmer. It’s the love, hard work and character.’ The skills I have learned on the farm have benefited me greatly in FFA, but more so the life skills I have learned in FFA have truly helped me grow as a person on the farm.”

Schroeder gave her perspective as a non-farm background student actively involved in the chapter.

“The beauty of FFA is that most of us are not from a farming background, but the skills, values, work ethic and leadership lessons we learn in this program are very much like those learned growing up on a farm. I chose to become involved in FFA as a sixth-grader because I was lost and trying to find something to plug into. I wanted to become more involved in the community and find a niche of people who share the same interests that I acquired. With the help of Chad Johnson and my parents, I started my journey in the FFA, which has now bettered me in every way imaginable.

“Because of the ignition started within me as a sixth-grader, with very limited farming background I have began to grow my knowledge of agriculture and simple communication skills. What was once a small spark of interest and desire to succeed is now burning like a wildfire within me. Learning, competing and succeeding have enabled myself as well as others to experience nearly everything we thought we’d never be able to achieve, all due to the simple choice to step outside of a comfort zone and join the organization of the FFA.”

Indiana State Director of Agriculture Bruce Kettler served as the evening’s keynote speaker for the crowd of 300, highlighting ISDA and its programs. Kettler’s most powerful message came at the end of his speech, when he emphasized the importance of community coming together to support our youth.

“What a great event. So proud of the students and our community,” local businesswoman Jacqueline Worrick, of Hughes Insurance Group, said.

Whitko graduate and former Whitko FFA member Rachelle Cormany attended the event to show her support of the program.

“Already looking forward to next year. Such a great event for even greater kids and I’m so glad to witness it all,” she said.

In addition to the meal, a pie auction, T-shirt sales and a silent auction complemented the generous sponsors and individual donors supporting the evening.

“As they say, teamwork makes the dream work,” said Sarah Furthmiller, who, along with Skylar Campbell, serves as the FFA advisors and agriculture teachers at Columbia City High School. “We are privileged to have amazing FFA boosters that selflessly put on an incredible Blue Jacket Bash again this year. We are thankful to live in a community that supports agriculture education, as well as our FFA program and members.”

Gold sponsors for the evening were Micropulse Inc., Huntington University, Kubota by More Farm Store, Parkview Health, Holzinger Seed Service, Ag Plus, STAR Bank, Wealth Insurance & Management, CC Ag Teacher Emeritus Dean Warren, Specialty Hybrids/Rob Schuman, BASF Corp and Schrader Real Estate & Auction.

Silver sponsors were Alliance Feed, Lake City Bank, Hoffman Land & Cattle, Stetzel Family Farms, Blackburn & Green, Farm Credit Mid-American, Wagner-Meinert, Buescher Homes, Bippus State Bank and Blue River Digital.

Funds raised from the Blue Jacket Bash will help support the Columbia City FFA Chapter’s programs and activities throughout the year, such as career development events, leadership training and community service activities.