by sabrina forse | photos provided by kerri ledoux
It’s a goal-oriented mission statement written by a high school student who was chosen for the Texas FFA Ford Leadership Scholars program. Johnny Callan was one of only ten students in Texas chosen for the 2016 class of scholars. He was slated to be the valedictorian at Jacksboro High School when a car crash on November 26, 2016 claimed his life at the age of 17.
Today, Johnny’s mission statement is continuing to make a difference through the Live Like Johnny Organization. “As a mother, of course I knew Johnny was special but I didn’t realize the magnitude of influence that he had on other people. He was a Christian and so humble that I didn’t know all that he did for others until after he passed,” said Johnny’s mother Kerri LeDoux. “Someone started a scholarship fund in his name when he passed and the bank called me and said we have over $30,000 that people have donated. I was a grieving mother and an organization wasn’t on my mind at the time, the days following were tough, but they also provided clarity, focus and purpose. We had to live John’s legacy and the Live Like Johnny Organization was the way to do just that.”
Johnny & his mother Kerri LeDoux
“We had to live John’s legacy and the Live Like Johnny Organization was the way to do just that.”
~ Kerri LeDoux
At an early age, Johnny enjoyed the responsibility and stewardship that came with raising an animal and competitiveness of comparing his hard work against peers in the livestock show arena. When he was nine years old, he won Reserve Champion Goat at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. His leadership skills developed and he became the local FFA Chapter President and worked his way up to Area IV President which includes Abilene to Wichita Falls. He was actively involved in Student Council, Beta Club, National Honor Society, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Future Business Leaders of America. He earned the Lone Star Degree (the highest FFA degree at the state level) and won multiple livestock shows. He also competed and served at the National Level on Championship FFA judging teams and as a National FFA voting delegate.
The Live Like Johnny Organization is a way to encourage others to live what Texas FFA Foundation Executive Director and Live Like Johnny Board Member, Aaron Alejandro calls Johnny’s personal brand. “At just seventeen years old, Johnny Callan was living his brand. He used his time, talent and treasures, his philanthropy to serve and empower others. Johnny utilized social media to post about leadership, mentoring, helping others, the community, and the power and opportunities afforded when wearing the FFA jacket. What you share, like or engage with on social media can show how you’re living your brand. I was so impressed that Johnny embraced this culture of servant leadership and living your brand.”
Live Like Johnny offers three ways for students to live that brand. It’s giving back to the community through the Jackets From Johnny Program, the SEE (Support, Encourage, Engage) Like Johnny Mentor Experience and scholarships. “Johnny’s brand is alive and living through this organization. An individual can benefit from each one of these programs. It’s empowering kids and their dreams,” said Alejandro.
“At just seventeen years old, Johnny Callan was living his brand. He used his time, talent and treasures, his philanthropy to serve and empower others.” ~ Aaron Alejandro
The scholarship program seeks high school seniors who are often overlooked but have the potential for success. “We look for kids that may not always have the best grades but are involved in their communities, want to go to college and have a ‘want to’ mentality, something you may not always see on standardized test score,” said LeDoux. Johnny was an intelligent student who was planning to attend Texas A&M University. However, it was his heart that most impressed his mother. “Even as a young boy, he would cry when we would see someone standing on the road at a red light asking for money. He always wanted to make people feel special and included. He had a soft heart for others. He was very intentional in everything he did, not just in the offices he held but how he treated others,” said LeDoux. So far, eleven scholarships worth $11,500 have been awarded.
Jackets From Johnny is a program created organically from Johnny’s own actions. “I had given Johnny extra money for a leadership retreat. I was short on money and told him not to spend it unless he really needed it. When he got back, I asked him how much money he had left and he said none but I will pay you back. Then he told me what happened. There were some kids at the retreat who couldn’t afford the FFA jacket. Johnny wrote a note to the man hosting the event and shared some of his money asking him to buy jackets for the two girls who couldn’t afford them,” explained LeDoux. “Johnny’s dreams didn’t die when he did. We are just helping them become a reality by continuing what he already put into motion.
Jackets From Johnny desires to give any student who can’t afford the FFA corduroy jacket a chance to wear one. “That jacket is a game changer. When you zip up that jacket, you’re like everyone else. Your background, income or home life doesn’t matter. The FFA jacket levels the playing field and opportunities are open to everyone,” said Alejandro. Thirty-two jackets were donated within the first two years and LeDoux says she is planning to order up to seventy-five more before the end of the year.
Jackets From Johnny desires to give any student who can’t afford the FFA corduroy jacket a chance to wear one.
SEE Like Johnny is a mentorship program developed by Johnny’s fellow Ford Leadership Scholars. Ford selects scholars based on their leadership abilities, community service and potential to build a legacy. “I didn’t have the opportunity to know Johnny a long time but it was amazing to see the impact he had on so many people,” said Mitchell Dale, Vice Chairman of the Texas FFA Foundation Board and President of McRee Ford. Dale was actively involved in establishing the vision for the program between the Texas Ford Dealers and FFA. “I recall reading Johnny’s application and it was intriguing to read how committed he was to his purpose. I had a vision of who he was from his application but that vision was elevated when I looked the young man in the eye during the face to face interview. I understood just how real he was.”
As part of Johnny’s community service through Ford scholars, he designed, secured financing and collaborated with city leaders to facilitate the construction of a public dock at a lake in Jacksboro.
As part of Johnny’s community service through Ford scholars, he designed, secured financing and collaborated with city leaders to facilitate the construction of a public dock at a lake in Jacksboro. “He was a true leader who was fun to be around. His presence could be felt in the room without him even saying anything. When you were around him, you knew you would feel encouraged,” said Dale.
Live Like Johnny annual gala
Johnny’s fellow 2016 Ford Scholars were encouraged by his mission. “The other nine students came together and wrote the mentor program tailored around who Johnny was. It’s called SEE Like Johnny Mentor Experience. There are seven different pillars. Students are taught how Johnny lived, who he was and how he helped kids less fortunate. We had ten mentors and ten mentees last year and hope to double that for this year. I’ve also had teachers who want to now implement the program in other schools,” said LeDoux.
It’s the perfect example of developing and encouraging others to become servant leaders like Johnny. “You know someone is special when they can leave such a legacy at just seventeen years old. I am very proud of the other Ford Scholars and his mother who felt compelled to help others. They didn’t ask why. They just felt they had a responsibility. They knew Johnny’s work was unfinished,” said Dale.
Live Like Johnny raises funds through donations, an annual gala and an annual livestock show.
“I hope everyone who learns about Johnny is encouraged to make a difference and make an impact on others,” said Dale.
“I hope everyone who learns about Johnny is encouraged to make a difference and make an impact on others.” ~Mitchell Dale
For Johnny’s mother, she sees that promise with every sunset. “Johnny was so humble. He never talked about things he did but I think he would be touched and honored by this organization,” said LeDoux. “Johnny’s favorite color was pink so when something amazing happens and I see a magenta sunset, I picture him smiling down at us, knowing he’s proud that his friends and family are doing everything we can to keep his dreams alive.” †