A University of Illinois sophomore and Gibson City native was honored at the White House this week for his work to encourage students and future leaders to serve the community.
Jacob Dickey and 11 other 4-H and FFA members were named "Champions of Change" as part of a White House program to recognize ordinary Americans who are making a difference in their communities.
Each week, the program highlights a different sector, from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, and the honorees are invited to a ceremony in Washington.
"It was absolutely incredible and extremely humbling," Dickey, 19, said Tuesday after a full day of events at the White House.
Dickey, who is studying agricultural education at the UI, has been active with FFA for seven years in leadership positions at the local and state levels, most recently as Section 17 president and District 4 student director.
This past year, he led a volunteer initiative that involved 13 regional high schools promoting the FFA goal of service work, from Champaign County to parts of Ford, Douglas, Piatt and Vermilion counties.
Dickey brought together businesses and civic organizations to develop a yearlong campaign that encouraged young students and future leaders to "live to serve," part of the FFA motto.
Tuesday's honorees were given the opportunity to share their stories with administration officials and 4-H and FFA members around the globe.
"The members of 4-H and FFA are shining examples of the positive change young Americans are bringing across the country," said Jon Carson, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Engagement.
Dickey, a native of Gibson City, said the honorees — six students and six adults — took part in a panel presentation about their work. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary John White and Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Catherine Woteki participated, along with national representatives for FFA and 4-H.
Later, the group talked with senior White House advisers about agriculture education, including math and science applications, civic engagement and trade.
"It's not every day you get a senior staff member talking about policy, to hear what's going on in the administration and what they're doing to promote agriculture," Dickey said.
Dickey is a 2011 graduate of Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School. His father is Daniel Dickey, mayor of Gibson City.
His FFA adviser, Kathy Novotney, said Dickey singlehandedly redesigned the district's Leadership Training School to put more emphasis on volunteering in the community and motivating students to "live a life of service."
His "Living to Serve" campaign connected with community organizations, including Special Olympics, to do service projects. Dickey organized a 5K Charity Walk/Run at the UI to benefit Special Olympics, and FFA members teamed up with the athletes by volunteering at competitions.
"They could see what Special Olympics were all about. It was a really moving experience for the members," Dickey said.
He had kick-started the campaign by seeking sponsorships from area businesses for a project to paint and sell rain-barrels, with the proceeds donated to the Special Olympics. Dickey and his fellow FFA leaders encouraged the student chapters to start initiatives at their own schools — in Monticello, for instance, students sold root beer floats at lunchtime to support Special Olympics.
During his FFA career he also worked on efforts to develop a safe-driving curriculum for high schools across the country, and testified before the Illinois Senate in favor of safe driving laws.
"Jacob is always looking for ways to make a difference," Novotney wrote. "His commitment to the members he serves is inspiring to all around him, and he constantly goes out of his way to seek new opportunities for those around him. Jacob is a genuine leader, and as an individual has rare qualities that set him above the rest."
Now a member of Collegiate FFA at the UI, Dickey is double-majoring in atmospheric sciences and agricultural education. He hopes to be "an ag teacher by day and a weatherman by night."
Dickey said he was proud to represent others who were involved in the project, including Elise Hackett of Tuscola High School, Meghan Gleason of Mahomet-Seymour, Dallas Glazik and Billy Masco from Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Chad Meltzr from St. Joseph-Ogden, and Novotney.