Hope restored after the 2022 Delaware FFA Convention

The drive to Harrington, Delaware took a little over an hour. The weather was brisk, but beautiful and traffic was minimal. Driving from north Delaware to southern Delaware is such a treat, the open roads, blue skies and farm land bring me a sense of peace.

The 2022 Delaware FFA Convention took place at the Harrington Fairground this year. Today was their day of service and they chose to invite us down for a chat and a bag packing event.

This is the first time my 12-year-old, Finnegan Stephan, took a leading role in a 3B event. Today Finnegan took the mic and introduced his brother. He provided brief information about how 3B was formed and what we have accomplished over the last 9 years. I am so proud of him for conquering this fear. Several of the FFA students took time to give him fist bumps afterward.

Braeden spoke less about what 3B is and more about why it’s important to him. His talk was more somber than at previous events. Of course he hasn’t spoken in-person for two years due to COVID-19, so a lot has changed in his life. He is now 18 years old, he’s not the same young kid who put this all together. He has seen the dark side of working with homeless populations. Thankfully, he still has the same big heart.

I’ve had people tell me that handing out Brae’s Brown Bags isn’t helping anyone. That the homeless are lazy or drug addicts. No one grows up wanting to hold a cardboard sign on a street corner begging for money or food. That’s no one’s dream.

Braeden Mannering, March 8, 2022
Braeden talking at the 2022 Delaware FFA Convention
Braeden went on to give examples of some of the people he has met over the years. He told their stories, he shared how they are good people who worked hard and things didn't end up going their way. I think it is critical for people to understand that there are vulnerable populations who need support and compassion rather than hard knocks. Humanizing the man or woman behind the tattered clothes and cardboard signs is important.

We all cope with loss and pain in different ways. And each of us in this room have walked a different path. You can’t look at someone and know what they are going through. You can’t look at someone and claim to know how much time or resources they are worth.

I hope we choose to be the kind of people who stop to give someone a moment…We are all somebody’s son or daughter.

Brae’s Brown Bags is a simple concept. We don’t need to be fancy or complicated to make a difference. Each person who receives one of these bags can be helped, that matters to me. That person matters.

Braeden Mannering, March 8, 2022

There were many helpers assisting with the bag packing today. Of course the majority were current FFA students from middle and high schools across the state. I’d like to say thank you to a student named Jasmine who showed interest in doing research to help us find a more environment friendly way to pack our bags to hopefully someday use less plastic water bottles!

2022 Delaware FFA Convention service project group photo
A group photo after the bags were all packed!

We had a great deal of enthusiastic help from Jackson Sylvester, a former president of Delaware FFA, and a graduate of Lake Forest High School in Kent County, who is now the National FFA secretary.

There were also some FFA alums, like Kristin Cook, who helped us find our way around The Centre Ice Arena, a 49,000 square-foot facility that sits on the Harrington Fairgrounds.

Ultimately, this caring group of young FFA leaders packed nearly 250 Brae’s Brown Bags.

Amanda Powell, Executive Secretary of the Delaware FFA Association, let us know that the bags will be donated to People’s Place in Dover, Delaware. This organization offers a variety of services. One of which is called “Whatcoat Social Services” (Whatcoat) provides emergency shelter and transitional housing for low-income individuals and families.  

Whatcoat’s Donation Wish List

  • Soap
  • Toiletries
  • Gift cards
  • Backpacks
  • Paper products
  • School supplies
  • DART bus passes
  • Diapers and Pull-Ups
  • Dish detergent/sponges
  • Non-perishable food items
Braeden Mannering and Finnegan Stephan after the event outside The Centre
Braeden Mannering and Finnegan Stephan after the event outside The Centre

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