written by sabrina forse tatsch | photos provided by aaron alejandro
The most important task on Aaron Alejandro’s professional to-do list is opening doors. “When my son Chandler was in second grade, he asked me to go to his school where the other daddies where talking about their jobs. There were police officers, lawyers, doctors, pilots and me… a professional fundraiser. How am I going to explain to a bunch of second graders that I raise money but, I’m not a beggar? I went up to the large whiteboard and I drew a tiny door and asked the kids, ‘How many of you could get through that door? They responded, ‘No sir. It is too small.’ Next, I drew a really big door and ask them if they could get through that door? They said, ‘Yes sir.’ I explained that is what I do. I make doors bigger. I help to make the doors bigger so that more people can get through,” explained Aaron Alejandro.
Coach Robin Ritchie with Team Member North Jackson
“When one door closes, another one opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” -Alexander Graham Bell
The Wichita Falls resident is the Executive Director of the Texas Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation. It’s a position which he has held for nearly twenty years. As an agricultural advocate, he travels the state to generate funding, develop relationships and empower teachers with the resources they need. His fundraising efforts support leadership development opportunities and scholarships for more than 129,000 Texas FFA members. Through his success in consulting with teachers, students, businesses, organizations and donors, Alejandro has established record levels of support for the Texas FFA. Financial support for the organization has grown 266% since 2000 when Alejandro was hired. He is a member of the Forbes Non-profit Council which is an invitation only group for executives in successful non-profits. In 2016, Farm Credit Fresh Perspectives honored Alejandro as one of the top 100 rural and agricultural leaders in the country.
“His philosophy which I still believe to this day is ‘you don’t learn anything until something depends on you.’” - Aaron Alejandro
Like a farmer that has spent a lifetime nurturing his crop, Alejandro’s career with the Texas FFA is one that was planted when he was a teenager. “My mother and father divorced when I was six years old and my father passed away when I was ten. I started getting into trouble so when I was fourteen, my mother sent me to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch near Amarillo.” There, Alejandro met Winston Chandler, a mentor that he would later honor in the name of his first-born son. “I didn’t have a choice. Mr. Chandler put me in agricultural classes and made me work on an ag related job. His philosophy which I still believe to this day is ‘you don’t learn anything until something depends on you.’ He wanted us to understand the importance of responsibility and stewardship.”
Alejandro learned to live that philosophy. He raised animals, cultivated plants in the greenhouse, perfected watering techniques through irrigation, mucked stalls at the feed lot and dairy barn, cut meat at the butcher shop and developed leadership skills for life. “I would argue that respect, responsibility and resilience are the three most important skills to teach. If we can teach kids to respect themselves, take responsibility for themselves, their family, community and have the resilience to persevere when they get knocked down, then we are giving them core values they can rely on for the rest of their lives.”
Aaron at the FFA chapter he grew up at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch
“When I zipped up that blue jacket, I looked just like everyone else which meant I had the same opportunities as everyone else.” - Aaron Alejandro
You may recognize FFA students by their blue corduroy jackets. For young Alejandro, the jacket leveled the playing field. “When I graduated high school, my mom could only afford to give me $25. I wanted to go to college but had poor test scores and just $25 in my checking account. The odds were stacked against me but I grew up in a time when we were told that we lived in the greatest country full of opportunity. That opportunity was not tied to a test score or bank account. When I zipped up that blue jacket, I looked just like everyone else which meant I had the same opportunities as everyone else. I was going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Alejandro earned scholarships and majored in agriculture at Texas Tech University. He finished his degree at Midwestern State University (MSU) in Wichita Falls. It’s a community he has called home since 1988 when working for Congressman Bill Sarpalius. Since then, he’s served on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club, Leadership Wichita Falls and the Downtown Rotary Club. He is a member of the Dillard College of Business Agribusiness Advisory Board at MSU. “There are so many ways to get involved in Wichita Falls. In FFA, we teach that stewardship goes beyond agriculture. Find ways to serve in your home and your community.”
“The odds were stacked against me but I grew up in a time when were told that we lived in the greatest country full of opportunity. That opportunity was not tied to a test score or bank account.” - Aaron Alejandro
Texas Agricultural Education/FFA headquarters are in Austin but Alejandro’s job takes him across the Lone Star state and country. His office is in the fields of the communities the Texas FFA serves and in the classrooms of teachers mentoring the next generation of leaders.
“The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next,” is a quote by Abraham Lincoln. It’s a quote that Alejandro aligns with his job. “If agriculture has taught me anything, if you want to know what the future is, grow it.”
Founded in 1929, the Texas FFA is the country’s strongest FFA with 129,000 members. There are more than 1,000 local FFA chapters and 2,500 Agricultural Science Education teachers in Texas. Every summer, the Texas FFA hosts the state’s largest youth-led convention where more than $2 million in scholarships are awarded annually. The FFA journey develops leaders so that students can excel in any field that they choose. “We have thirty-one courses ranging from plant science to animal science to equine care and wildlife management.”
Aaron speaking to the leaders of the Texas FFA at the State Leadership Conference
“The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation is the philosophy of government in the next.” - Abraham Lincoln
While its core values remain the same, the FFA is evolving its programs to recruit students who can cultivate a better future. “The United Nations estimates that the world will require 80% more food by 2050. STEM is science, technology, engineering and mathematics but we should throw agriculture into the mix and call it STEAM. Agriculture scientists are using STEAM today to solve real world problems.”
Aaron with FFA students in Gainesville, Texas
“We are investing in students today for a better tomorrow.” -Aaron Alejandro
To help develop the next generation of problem solvers, Alejandro remains dedicated to the vision that began when he first zipped up his own FFA jacket. “Someone opened the door for me and I hope to open even bigger doors for the people following in my footsteps. I want to make those doors bigger and give more students the opportunity to grow and excel. I want more teachers to be empowered and think big so they can teach big,” said Alejandro. “The statistics on dying are pretty impressive. One out of every one of us will pass. As much as I want to be here and watch my grandson become the man I know he will be, statistically it will not be possible. But maybe, just maybe the FFA member we inspire today will become his teacher, mentor, doctor, lawyer or elected official. We are investing in students today for a better tomorrow.” †