All I Really Needed to Know I Learned at Oklahoma FFA Camp!

I just finished speaking at my 68th session of Oklahoma FFA Leadership Camp. This program is sponsored by the Oklahoma FFA Alumni, and it is one of the most phenomenal programs, and participating in it has made a positive impact on my life as well. Since 1994, I have been the kick-off speaker, doing 4 sessions every summer during the first two weeks of July. Here are some lessons that I have learned from camp that I have tried to weave into the fabric of my life. For those of you who were at camp, these are the lessons that are printed on the back of your “Best Friend”. (at camp the term “Best Friend” is used to indicate their camp manual that they keep with them at all times).



1. Live with a smile on your face and love in your heart: It is amazing how a smile can make a positive difference on our day, how we feel about others and how others feel about you. Allowing yourself to smile more often is a great place to begin when making positive life changes.



2. Make each session of anything better than the last session you just finished: Camp is all about improvement, and focusing on getting better everyday. We are vigilant on improvement. Since there are four camps a summer the focus is always on getting better. Each year we work at making the next year better than the last year. By focusing on continuous improvement as an organization the individuals always find room to grow.


3. If someone is hanging back, encourage them: Camp is a great place because the small group leaders, the state officers and the staff are always finding ways to encourage others. What if we lived our lives always looking for ways to help others move upward and onward.



4. Don’t use the “H” word and the “T” word they only bring others down: (I am whispering this: “H”=Hot and “T” = Tired and we don’t use those words at camp) Choosing to not use those words at camp is a fun little game we play because we understand that the language we use has a powerful impact on our surroundings. We will be more productive when we focus on the opportunity instead of on the negative aspects of the situation.



5. Give Hugs:

6. Let others have the glory every chance you get:  Let’s face it we live in a very “Me” centered culture and by spreading the glory to others we create ownership for others. When people feel ownership they are committed to making things better.


7. Be humble and they will remember you in positive ways after you leave: It is much easier to live with a humble person than an ego driven personality.


8. Playing in water brings people together: A really “cool” (pun intended) part of Alumni Camp is the water olympics. I wish that you could see it. It is a major production, and there is so much laughter and fun. It is a simple idea, but it makes a powerful impact on the camp, and the participants!

9. You never know when someone really important might be sitting next to you: Since we don’t really know, doesn’t it make sense to treat everyone with respect.



10. It doesn’t matter who wins as much as who you become while you are playing: In a world obsessed with winning it would do us all good to focus on “who am I becoming” in the midst of the madness. When our focus is on becoming men and women of character, winning kind of takes a back seat. Not saying that we should strive to be our best. Camp is all about bringing your best self to the program everyday. However, if we disrespect others in the process by “trash talking” and “pumping our ego” what did we really win? Learning to win and lose with character and grace is the mark of a true champion.


11. Start off each day with lots of energizers: At camp we are very purposeful about how we start our day. We regard everyday as important and since amazing things are going to happen today it is important that we get ourselves going. Every day is special every day is unique, today your life might be changed, so it makes sense that we should get energized for today!


12. End each day sitting in a circle talking with people you care about: A huge piece of camp is “small group time” during this time campers go through a curriculum designed to teach leadership and respect for others. It is pretty cool to see how close the campers get with each other as a result of this experience. During this time a renewed appreciation for the individual arises as a result of people talking and listening to each other. In this day and age of electronic connectivity the power of face to face interaction is often over looked. What would happen in our personal lives if we spent a little time each day, giving value to others by practicing the art of listening. Leaders Listen!



13. Use yes sir, no sir, yes mam, no mam, Mr., Mrs., please and thank-you. It shows respect and the world needs more of it. I am always so pleased by the amount of respect I see teens at camp giving to adults and to each other.


14. Take a little time each day to reflect upon our wonderful country.  The flag raising and flag lowering ceremonies at camp are a site to behold. When you see 400 teens standing around the flag pole in absolute silence, reflecting on what it means to be an American it will give you a renewed since and hope for our country.


15. It is amazing who we become when we are put in a clean, powerful and positive environment: Expectations create amazing outcomes. At camp there is an expectation about how people behave, about how people interact and about how people work together. The expectation is that teens will be respectful, look out for each other and participate at a high level. That is exactly what happens, the run into sessions to fill the front rows, they get involved in the program, they interact with enthusiasm, and all of this leads to a great camp experience!


16. Send Happy Grams: Happy Grams are hand written notes given out to campers by campers, small group leaders, state officers and the staff. The rule of Happy Grams is that they are clean, powerful and positive and you can give one to anyone. It is amazing what a few simple words of encouragement can do to help us get through the challenges in our lives. The great thing about Happy Grams is that you don’t need a yellow slip of paper to send one. You can send one anytime. You could write a short note today to someone you care about letting them know you noticed their kindness, attention to detail or thier smile. Try it! You don’t need to be at camp to make a difference in someones life!


17. Give Thanks before each meal, and always thand the hands that prepared it and those that produced it.


18. Share your “Great Moments” and successes at the end of each day, and reflect upon what you can improve upon.


19. We are blessed to be a blessing to others: Yes, you heard it right…you are blessed to be a blessing! Be grateful that today you have an opportunity to help, encourage and support. The act of being a blessing for others blesses you!



20. Saying good-bye is never easy. The coolest part about camp is that campers don’t want to go home. There are always tears on the last day of camp. It is often hard to say good-bye to new friends. People get close, relationships are forged and the way we know the experience was special is because of what we feel in our heart when it is time to go.





21. Keep your best friend with you at all times: It’s kind of funny that at camp we always refer to our best friend as the notebook that we keep with us at all times, but there is really another message there. We should keep our best friend with us always, because even when they are not with us physically the friends that we make stay with us for a life time. They are with us in the memories of the struggles we shared and the laughs we had. Best friends are always in our hearts and that’s why we go to camp.


To the 1600+ that attended the four sessions of camp this year. Thank-You! I was better than I should have been because of you. Thanks for laughing with me, thanks for getting involved and thanks for some great friendships! Remember to keep your best friend with you at all times and take a moment to connect with your friends at camp. I hope to see you next year!


To those who didn’t go to camp. Maybe you got a piece of camp to take with you today. Keep the smile on your face and the love in your heart. If your reading this on Facebook, please leave a short comment, or addition!


Bill Cordes, The YOGOWYPI Guy






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