CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- The COVID-19 pandemic created unique challenges for organizations across Illinois, including the Illinois Association FFA.
In order to host an in-person convention this year the event was taken on the road. Illinois FFA made stops in Springfield, Bloomington-Normal and Carbondale.
With the event being in Carbondale, the convention will focus on the accomplishments of southern Illinois students. Those include American degrees, State degrees and individual awards for students' projects, including crops, entrepreneurial businesses, and livestock.
About 1,000 people attended Friday night's convention session, including more than 500 members.
Illinois FFA Leaders say they are excited to be in Carbondale this year.
"As soon as we needed a regional site they were one of the first calls to make and they have made it happen for us. Very appreciative for all they've done for us," said John Edgar, Assistant Director at the Illinois FFA Center.
And this year's Illinois State President is excited to be in the community she will call home for a few years.
"It's incredibly special not only because I am in District 5, this is my home district, but I'm also going to SIU. So, it's like double home," explained Lexi Mueller, Illinois FFA President.
Leaders with the College of Agricultural, Life and Physical Sciences say they knew they needed to jump on the task to host this year's event. The school wanted to welcome students in, while showcasing what the university has to offer.
"There was no better place to make these students feel at home than here on SIU campus. We have the opportunity to show southern Illinois students that this is home. This is where we want them. That when they are looking for a college, they consider SIU and realize that no matter where they go we still care about them on this campus, " said Assistant to the Dean for the College of Ag.
SIU is also home to their first ever National FFA Officer. Eastern Region Vice President Miriam Hoffman, an Illinois native, says being in southern Illinois is a unique opportunity.
"So, I am a member of the Saluki community. I'm taking a gap year to serve as a national officer. I'll be back in the spring. It's especially a privilege to be at my home state convention and home university."
FFA members were also granted the opportunity to tour SIU, including the campus farms. Some students say touring campus convinced them to reconsider becoming a Saluki.
"I wanted to come here for agriculture education to be an adviser in the first place but this has definitely boosted my experience," said Shawnee FFA member Kam Tapley.
"I think it's genuinely changed my opinion about this school. At first I had no intention of even considering it, but now after taking the tour, I can safely say it's definitely an option," explained Alexis Miller, Shawnee FFA member.
You can catch more from the convention on the Illinois Association FFA Facebook page.