Episode 014 - Texas FFA AREA II Vice-President Zoee Nolan, and Texas FFA Foundation Executive Director- Aaron Alejandro

In this episode, we have the honor of hosting Texas FFA Area II Vice-President, Zoee Nolan, and Texas FFA Foundation Executive Director, Aaron Alejandro. Join us as they take us on a captivating journey through the Texas State FFA Convention and unravel the essence of what FFA truly represents. Get ready to be inspired and gain a deeper understanding of the remarkable impact FFA has on the lives of students across Texas.

Listen Here:

Podcast Transcript

Taylor McAdams: You're listening to the kick your boots up podcast where we swap stories of the West. Whether you're just waking up or getting in for the day, come on in and kick your boots up. Hello, everybody and welcome to the kick your boots up podcast. This week's episode is one you're not gonna want to miss out on especially because it's timely. We have the Texas FFA Convention coming up this week. It's going to be jam packed full of all kinds of excitement in Dallas, Texas. And what better way to talk about the Texas FFA convention than bringing on the stars themselves. I wish we could bring on the entire officer team but today's guests will just have to do we're gonna start off with Mr. Aaron Alejandro. He's the Executive Director for the Texas FFA Foundation. And incredible man, he comes highly recommended. I can't wait to get to know his story. So Aaron, thank you for being on.

Aaron Alejandro: Oh, thank you for having us. And we appreciate Justin. And we love kicking up our Justin boots. And I really want to defer to our state officer first if you don't mind. I want to let Zoee go. Because this is really all about the kids and then I'll jump in right behind Zoee. Zoee, I'd love for you love for them to get to know you.

Taylor McAdams:  Oh, without a doubt she I can't go without introducing her to the world as well. None other than Zoee Nolan. She's the area two state vice president she is in full force for the Texas FFA Convention. And Zoey, We're just thankful for you and Aaron both taking time out of your busy schedule with the convention activities happening. Thank you for being here.

Zoee Nolan: Yes, of course. Thank you for having me. Whe are super excited for convention and to bring all of the Texas FFA members to Dallas, Texas. It's going to be a great time. We have a lot of really cool stuff planned. And we've been working really hard. So it's super exciting.

Taylor McAdams:  That is one thing for sure people can talk about with Texas FFA and FFA in general, hard work does not go unnoticed. And it happens all the time. So thank you for all the hard work you and the officer team and the other members have put in as well. But before we get started talking about convention, I kind of want to back it up and talk a little bit more about you. I know it's hard to do that in FFA. It's all about serving others, but this is your time to shine. I'm genuinely curious. So how did you get started in FFA? What's your background?

Zoee Nolan: So I was raised in a very heavy agricultural background. My dad's a fourth generation if not more than that farmer. We also raised a little bit of cattle. And so growing up I was hands on in the agriculture industry. So whenever I became a junior high student, it was obvious that I would get involved with the FFA. I will say I loved volleyball at the time, so I was a little hesitant to go all in. But I quickly realized the opportunity that lied in FFA, and I fell back in love with the agriculture industry and all that it has to offer. And since then I've just been able to be elected as a Texas FFA State officer. And through that I have had countless opportunities. And it really has been amazing. And it's crazy to think that just in a few days, I'll retire my last jacket and my time in the FFA serving in this role will be over. But I just have a passion for agriculture that my dad instilled in me and I want to do everything I can to give back to the members and it's almost to the end, but I can say that it's been extremely fulfilling.

Aaron Alejandro: Oh, it has an Aaron, before we move on to you. I'm gonna ask you Zoee, you mentioned that your dad is a multi-generation farmer you grew up. What do you think is the hardest part about going from, you know waking up early, taking care of cattle livestock, going to school, and then turning on your cleaning up and turning on your official FFA voice and getting on your official FFA dress? What is the hardest part about juggling it all.

Zoee Nolan: It can be overwhelming some time, especially this year. I'm attending college. And so it's just crazy. But I think whenever you have a passion for what you're doing, and you realize the opportunity that putting this blue jacket on can give you it's really easy to overcome that it can be hard sometimes to juggle both. But if you're truly genuine and you're authentic and you're doing it for the right reasons, it's not that big of a change. You're just changing your outfit, but you're not changing the way that you're advocating for agriculture and our industry.

Taylor McAdams: And Zoee, I'm so glad you said passion. I can tell both of you you and Aaron and I'm sure your entire officer team truly bleed blue and gold, and that's something that we have to showcase and shed light on too. So Aaron moving on to you. And speaking of be bleeding blue and gold you're a full-on grown-up as they as we would say as FFA members, and you are dedicating your time and life to serving FFA and it's got to be so rewarding. But I'm genuinely curious. What's your FFA story? How did you get started? Where are you in FFA member as a kid?

Aaron Alejandro: Yeah, so I'm gonna give you the thumbnail version of my story. I grew up there in the Metroplex. I grew up just outside of Dallas in a broken home. My father passed away when I was 10. I got into a lot of trouble. And my mom placed me at California Lee's Boys Ranch in the Texas panhandle. When I got the Boys Ranch, the guy that raised me Mr. Chandler put me in ag I never signed up for ag Mr. Chandler put me in a. And for two years I had a pity party and I felt sorry for myself and I thought the world had really dealt me a bad hand. And I went to a state to a workshop and a state officer just like Zoey. Talk to me and challenge me. And as a result, I decided I run for office and FFA. So I got involved in my chapter, I graduated and somebody said I should run for state office. They had never had a state president under five foot five. They never had a state president with the last night, Alejandro. And I remember driving my little Ford Ranger pickup truck from Amarillo down to Houston and stood behind a podium and lectern so large couldn't even see me. I stood on a milk crate. And unlike Zoe's Convention, which is going to have 17,000 people, we had 8000 people, and I told him why I wanted to be state FFA president in 1985 86, I traveled to state visit four to five hospitals a day, five days a week. My career went on, I work for a member of the United States Congress who was also a former Texas FFA officer. At the time that I was hired for this job. 23 years ago, I was working at a boot camp with true and offenders and I was working in a prison. I could not deny what that blue and gold jacket did for my life. So 23 years ago, I accepted the job as being the foundation director and I've never looked back. I tell people all the time, our responsibility as adults is to create opportunities for these kids. We couldn't create those opportunities if we didn't have sponsors like Justin, Justin provides the fuel to make dreams come true. And we got young people, young adults like Zoee, and the thing I like about Zoee is she's going to, you know, here we are trying to make the door of opportunity bigger so more people can get through it. Zoee will finish her year she'll grab a hammer and nails and she'll help me dig that door even bigger. So, yes, I bleed blue and gold. Because I guarantee there is no other organization that does what we do. In the world of agriculture. If we don't do our jobs, something dies. There is no other organization that can say that. Our kids are getting that we got great leader spokespersons like Zoee. I think our future looks great because of these Texas FFA kids.

Taylor McAdams:  Well said Aaron in the future really is Brad, I'm genuinely Sure. Very sure when I say that, just because of everything, not only in the States and all across the nation, all the FFA chapters. They're putting in the work. They're doing it and they're paving the way for future generations. And it's starting to show off. It's very, truly proving itself. So very well said, and it's so good to get to hear your story too. And a lot of people probably haven't heard it before. And if they have, you got to elaborate a little bit more. So thank you for that. I and I can't help but ask you guys both. You mentioned the passion, Aaron. And I think that's so big. So I've got to ask what does I'm going to turn it to you really quick. So what does FFA mean to you?

Zoee Nolan: Wow, that is a loaded question. I can talk about that all day. But in a nutshell, FFA looks like opportunity to me, I wouldn't, I've got to do some really awesome things like this today. Through the opportunities FFA is given to me. Recently, I was at my home chapters banquet. And they gave me a little opportunity to speak. And that's what I talked about, I talked about how they should grab every opportunity regardless of if it's scary, or it's new. Or even if it sounds a little boring, because I promise you it has something to offer. It's going to grow you in ways you could have never imagined. It's going to open doors like Mr. Alejandro said. And that's something that's really amazing. And another thing I see every day is is hope. Well, we have to realize that the average age of an American farmer is 58 years old, it's our generation has to step up and fill their shoes. And where are the kids who are learning about agriculture, gaining this passion for it and going to put that forth in the workforce in just a few years. And it's hope, because we have to feed the world. And I think that's a profound purpose that is unique to our organization. And it truly truly just makes me so joyful to see so many kids passionate about our industry and see the steps they're taking to make it better.

Taylor McAdams: Wow, you truly are a great advocate. Zoee, that was very well, well said. And there was lots of insight there. So Aaron, from your perspective, I'm sure it's a little bit different. But what does FFA mean to you?

Aaron Alejandro: Yeah, well, you know, one of my favorite quotes is from Abraham Lincoln. And Abraham Lincoln said that the philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next let that sink in the philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next when I think about the young people of the FFA. You know, Texas has three vital and renewable resources, youth agriculture and leadership. And our organization brings all three together that have great leaders today. Men are going to become dynamic influencers tomorrow. I can't wait to see where Zoey ends up. You know if agriculture has taught me anything, it's taught me this. If you want to know what the future is, grow it. Well, how do we grow it, we grow it through young people just like Zoey, we give them the tools, they need to be the best that they can be. And as a result, Texas will be better, our country better and our world better. And Zoey said, we're about to have a hungry world, we're going to have to have all hands on deck to feed a hungry world. And it's people like Zoey that are going to make sure my kids and my grandkids are taken care of. So I'm all about investing in the future. I'm all about growing a better Texas, and that's what Texas FFA is doing. 

Taylor McAdams: Oh yes. And one good thing about growing important to others is the Texas FFA Convention. Obviously, we mentioned in the beginning that it's coming up. But even my experience in Oklahoma going Oklahoma State Convention was all the different breakout sessions all the opportunities that are available for first-timers that maybe just worked hard to qualify for convention just to see what it's all about. We'll get to attend. And this week alone, there's going to be you mentioned there 17,000 kids are going to be there. But there's going to be so many people that just joined FFA because their friend did or similar to us. Oh, we just because you thought that was your next step. But there's going to be a lot of fires lit this week. So I guess let's talk through some of the things that we can expect at convention, the different opportunities there are for kids, things that they don't want to miss out on. Let's just talk all things convention for a second. So what do you what do you think are some highlights that everyone should look forward to going to?

Zoee Nolan: Oh, there's so many. But really quickly, I'd like to touch on the fact that you said there's gonna be some fires lit this week, I can speak from experience that is so true, I can still remember my first convention and sitting in the nosebleeds and looking down and watching the state officers be called out for the first time. And I can genuinely say that's when I first decided I want to be one of those one day I want to wear a jacket and be able to do that those really cool things that these kids are doing. And that did light a fire into me. And it made me more involved and more engaged. But some highlights we can look forward to this week. We have we have a keynote speaker, his name is Dan Owolabi He's amazing. Our officer team got to listen to him back in December. And we were truly touched by his message. And we decided we wanted him to come forward and speak at convention. You may not have heard of him. But he has a great story. And he is really motivating. I know that he motivated our team. And we were extremely touched by his message. And that's why we asked him to come speak, we will also have Josh Ward being playing the concert on Tuesday night. And that's super exciting. So come bring your country clothes and enjoy a great concert. We'll have workshops that you can attend throughout the week. Each of the 12 state officers we're going to have a retiring address where we have really positive messages we want to leave with the students and hopefully they'll take something away from them. And overall, we just have a really excited week plan. It's like a giant party. I mean, State Convention is like nothing else. And we're so excited.

Taylor McAdams:  Oh yeah, to piggyback off that just a little bit. You mentioned Josh Ward and the concert. I know that that's not necessarily like a career development event or anything like that. But it's truly worth it. It's truly worth getting a bunch of all 17,000 of Texas finest, finest kids together in one room. It's just so crazy the energy that you'll feel just in that one concert alone, as well as the different breakout sessions and then each general session as you guys are speaking, the energy there, I got chills when you were telling your story about how you were sitting in those seats, thinking one day that you wanted to be there because I too can relate to that. And so I think that's so important and so cool that you guys are doing the big things, but I've got to ask you from Aaron, from your perspective, you're gonna be kind of getting to see the 17,000 kids excited, nervous, scared all of the feelings and all the emotions. What's your outlook? What do you think that they're going to come walk away from this week at convention?

Aaron Alejandro: Everything that Zoee said. So everything that Zoee said that's what they're gonna take away from my perspective when dealing with sponsors, is I get to bring sponsors and have a group that hosts them for the week. And our sponsors get to see where their investment meets return. And I'm gonna tell you what a sponsor gets to see where their investment reach return, it makes you feel good. So think about this. There are over 3000 high schools in the state of Texas. Every one gonna have a graduating class this year. Everyone is going to have kids that are going to get out they're going to be looking for a job an opportunity or a scholarship. Ask the kids all the time. What's your competitive edge? What separates you from everybody else? And when you can say I was part of the largest youth-led convention in Texas, I was part of the Texas FFA. I went to leadership career development events stock shows, and I got to meet with professionals and sponsors and dig in to Terry's, I've got a professional network that gives me a competitive edge. And that when they come to convention, not only do they walk away with the incredible memories that Zoee said, they walk away with contacts, that will make them valuable to the Texas Workforce.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yeah. I have to agree with you there, it matters on college applications, the amount of time that they've spent dedicating and devoting their time to FFA and in all the different areas, there's a lot of kids out there that don't even have to own a show animal to still be in FFA and still get the same benefits. So well said, Aaron, I agree with you there. And Zoey moving on just a little bit. I'm curious for you, I want to share some of my tips just from has been days. But what are some pro tips to navigating convention? Anything insider there that you're willing to share?

Zoee Nolan: That's a good question. Convention is huge. I can remember getting lost my very first convention, I've always been directionally challenged. But when you put me in the Fort Worth Convention Center as a 13,14-year-old, it was not pretty. Charge your phone, bring a portable charger, you're going to need it. Um, with that being said water to let's see, you're gonna get blisters. If you're a girl, most likely. It's not the most glamorous thing, but have you some band-aids, maybe some Advil, runs in pantyhose, they're inevitable. They're going to happen. I put on a pair yesterday, I had runs. And I've been doing this for six years. So bring your hairspray and your clear nail polish to fix those and bring a positive attitude because it's going to be an amazing week. But I think those are the most tangible tips that I think are actually going to be beneficial because that's what I needed to hear when I was a 13-year-old at my first state convention.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yeah. And I'm so glad you mentioned the Runs in your pantyhose. Any female FFA member can relate to that I always had a backup pair of pantyhose in my bag as well, just because you never know. So very well said You took the words right out of my mouth. I couldn't agree more lots of walking the phone charger. That one's key. That one's important. You want to be able to meet up with your friends. And this is a networking event. And one thing that I admire about conventions the most is that this is probably one of the only times aside from Stock shows and things like that, where all the Texas kids are together. So if you have friends that are in the opposite side of the state, that would take 10 days it feels like to drive to go see. Now's the time to network with them. So yeah, that's really great advice to keep your phone charged and keep the the attitude alive as well. That's very, very, very good advice. But kind of moving on just a little bit. You mentioned earlier that you had your first experience sitting in those seats. You had the chills. And I kind of want to go back to that what was your first memory of the Texas FFA Convention. Now, it doesn't necessarily have to be you thinking you're going to be a state officer. But is there anything that you remember that was funny or embarrassing that you might you might want to share?

Zoee Nolan: Oh, my first convention, so I was the youngest that went in our chapter. I looked up to all the older kids and I can just remember we went to Fort Worth because every convention I've been to this far I've been to four I've been before I would have been five had COVID not happened. But they've all been in Fort Ord. So it's crazy that we're in Dallas this year. But I remember going to Fort Worth and we got there and we unloaded. And the very first day of convention, I remember walking into the Fort Worth Convention Center. And I was just mind blown. So many blue jackets, I always say it's a sea of Blue Jackets. And that is very accurate. I was just almost overwhelmed like overstimulated there was so much happening. There were vendors, there were booths, there, just kids everywhere. And it was just huge. And then we went to the convention and there was like a laser light show. And the officers ran in and I there was nothing like it. I've done really cool things before but nothing compared. And I was just completely mind blown by the entire experience. And then I do have a funny story I talked about runs earlier. And that does come from personal experience. I want to say it was like the end of convention. And I got like a terrible rep and my pantyhose. And the like old like I was just so impressionable. And older kids from my chapter decided to start like picking at it. And by the end of it, it was just my entire leg was just an entire rip leg of pantyhose. I remember walking by other kids. And they're like, saying it was like I got caught in a shredder. And I was like yeah, and it was a little embarrassing, but it was also really funny. We still have pictures of that that my parents laugh about. But it was just an amazing experience. And I walked away so motivated. I told my parents after that I wanted to be a state officer one day, I took me until my senior year to actually admit that to my ag teacher because I did not have faith in myself and I didn't think it would ever happen. But yeah, it was an amazing experience. I don't think I'll ever forget any of the conventions I've gone to. And it's crazy that we're putting on one this year and I get to play the role that I do and give back to all those kids and in hopes that they have just as good of an experience. I had.

Taylor McAdams: I'm so inspired by you way to leave me feeling empowered and engaged and encouraged along the way. That's so cool. I love your outlook on that. That kind of embarrassing moment and story. That's what I love about FFA is, well, it's all in good fun, right? Like you get to see your friends and you get to spend so much time on the bus together and so many times going out and eating and stuff during convention that you do become even closer than you were before. So that's what I love about convention too. But before we're out of time, I've just got to ask you both really quickly. What do you guys think that the future of Texas FFA looks like? Obviously, it's bright. So sorry, let's start with you.

Zoee Nolan: Um, I love that you ask that. So something that's very important to us is FFA members is the FFA Creed. And the first line of every paragraph says I believe. And the first line of the entire creed is I believe in the future of agriculture. FFA has changed a lot. We were founded in 1928 by a group of young farmers and our purpose was to prepare future generations for feeding a growing population. I mean, as our industry developed FFA, evolved, but we still have that at our core. And I just think that as the agriculture industry moves forward, FFA will move forward. And we will continue to create opportunities for students so that they can go out and be the next innovator who makes agriculture better. And I just think that FFA is going to continue to improve our industry through our youth.

Aaron Alejandro: Well said, How about you, Aaron?

Aaron Alejandro: Well, Zig Ziglar always said you go as far as you can see. And when you get there, you'll always be able to see further. We're 95 years old. Zoe and I stand on the shoulders of the people that went before us. Convention is going to inspire those people that are going to stand on our shoulders one day. And then they're going to look up one day, and it's going to be 100 years, and then 125 years. And we're only going to continue to get better. Think about it go back to what we said. Three vital and renewable resources, youth agriculture and leadership. We need it today. We're going to need it tomorrow. And we're going to need people just like Zoee.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yes, the world is very bright. And it will continue to be bright if we continue to build the future generations of agriculturist definitely. And I like what you said earlier because your job different is different, a little bit different during convention, you get to be with the sponsors and navigate that and kind of build them there and support their in which we feel on one hand is very, very needed. I know there's a breakfast or a dinner, you know all the things. That's super important too. But really quick, what do you think is some advice that you'd like to give to any organization out there or business company that wants to get involved with Texas FFA or the National FFA Organization in general? What are some advice that you could do? Where can you direct them to help give or donate or support in any way?

Aaron Alejandro: Obviously, come to our website, my Texas ffa.org. Come check out my Texas ffa.org. There's some incredible videos on there, they can find the Texas FFA foundation. What I like to tell sponsors is this where a great philanthropy and a great marketplace meet, that's a good place to be. Our kids are great. Philanthropy, they're a great cause, you're going to feel good about investing in young people that know that if they don't do their job, something dies. Think about that core value that we're planting in these kids. And then you thinking about a marketplace that's 95-years-old. So brand exposure, cultivation for future constituents, consumers, etc. I tell you, if you get involved with the Texas FFA you don't feel good about it. The people that you're around are gonna feel good about it. But more importantly, you're helping us plant those seeds to grow the future that we want. If you want to know what the future is grow it, why would you not want to plant more great seeds like Zoee? That's what we need. That's what makes me feel good about our future. And that's why I think it's going to be bright. It's going to be bright thanks to the Texas FFA Organization. 

Taylor McAdams: And Zoee really quick, what is some advice that you'd like to give anyone out there that is wanting to join FFA more from the member level.

Zoee Nolan: So it's kind of like what I said earlier, there's opportunities right at your fingertips, you just have to go and grab that and you have to run after it. If you have a goal chase it, you have to chase it hard. It doesn't come without hard work. And I think that there's many opportunities that you have within your local chapter. And if there's something that you're interested in, but your chapter doesn't necessarily offer it, talk to your ag teacher, I promise you that if you show that you're genuinely interested in something, act, teachers are going to do everything they can to help you because they're doing their job to help you and to benefit you. And they're doing it because they care about you. So reach out to them and show them this new opportunity you're interested in. Don't be scared of anything. I know that I was terrified and I ran for district office. At the end of my freshman year, I believe it was the scariest thing ever getting up in front of a room full of people that I didn't know and giving a speech. But it worked out and it was stepping stones that I needed so I could gain that confidence in myself and go into area and state. No goal is too big. I didn't have faith in myself in the beginning. And I got here through hard work and through chasing my goals. And I know that anyone can do that, especially if you tap into the opportunities that are right at your fingertips.

Taylor McAdams: Oh, yes. So in your prime example of having people pour into you kind of like what Aaron was saying, you're growing and pouring into others. So very well done, you guys. The organization is top-notch National FFA Organization is top-notch, keep doing what you do. And is there in are we going to be able to watch convention anywhere or is it close to the public will tell us about the details there.

Zoee Nolan: So we do have a live stream, I believe you can access it through our Facebook and through our convention website. Um, you can access the convention website by going to Texas ffa.org. And there is a link to the convention website and you can watch it there or on Facebook. If you follow Texas FFA, we will also have the links to all of our live streams. And those videos will be up after the fact in case you can't be there for the actual live stream. And we're just super excited. It's going to be a great experience. And so we just hope that you are involved whether you're there in person or if you're watching online because it's a super awesome time.

Taylor McAdams: And you heard it right here on the Kick Your Boots up podcast guys, you can go over to their Facebook, watch the different General Sessions. Here's Zoee's speech, no pressure Zoee. Good luck. And of course, if you're an FFA member out there, and you're going to be attending convention, you're one of those 17,000 Feel free to stop by the Justin booth. We'll have lots of handouts, giveaways. We're always excited to cheer you guys on and hear your stories and who knows, you might just wind up winning a free pair of Justin boots. So good luck to everyone out there. Continue doing what you do for the Texas FFA Organization. Both of you guys. So we Aaron, it has been a true pleasure. Drink lots of water this week. Stay hydrated, get as much sleep as you possibly can, even though it won't be much and just know everyone here at Justin is so thankful for you guys and your organization and everything that you do to continue the future generations of agriculturist

Zoee Nolan: Thank you. 

Aaron Alejandro: Thanks, Justin. 

Zoee Nolan: Yes, thank you all for having us today. It was amazing.

Taylor McAdams: Thanks for joining us on kick your boots up. I'm your host Taylor McAdams and we can't wait to share the next story of the West. Until then, feel free to like subscribe and leave us a review. Follow us on social media at Justin boots to keep up with our next episode. And we'll see you the next time you kick your boots up