By Marlee Moore
Special to the
Opelika Observer

Navigating a ropes course blindfolded and led by near-virtual strangers set the stage for 81 9th and 10th-graders to lead, work together and overcome challenges at the Alfa Youth Leadership Conference.
Students representing 33 counties attended the annual conference at the 4-H Center in Columbiana, Alabama, Oct. 8-9, sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation and county Federations.
Motivational speaker Rhett Laubach inspired students to rethink their perspective to overcome obstacles and be an encouraging light to those around them.
“When you decide to use your words and actions to build other people up, to smile, to encourage, you’re making them feel empowered,” Laubach said. “A challenge in front of you is not a lifetime sentence. It’s something you can overcome. Leaders take what is in front of them and say, ‘I have to look at this differently.’”
Later in the conference, students asked Federation President Jimmy Parnell questions about Alabama agriculture — such as the state’s best farming county, regulations, profits and how to start a farm.
Parnell also encouraged students to evaluate and communicate their views with others.
“You have already proven you are a leader in your school or community,” Parnell said, who also serves as Alfa Insurance’s president. “Keep it up. Keep working, keep making good decisions, and be willing to stand up and say what you think.”
It is an objective Elanco’s Jason Wetzler echoed during advocacy training, where students debunked misconceptions about agriculture and practiced telling their stories on video.
“Whatever your story is, it has a place in agriculture,” Wetzler said, who is a former National FFA officer. “For American ag to continue to have the impact it has — not only on your family and Americans but for people around the world — we have to tell our story to move people emotionally toward the truth.”
Attendees applied for the conference and were approved by their county federation.