The Lanesboro Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) organization has been in existence for around 25 years and it has been growing more popular in recent years.

"It helps students a lot with public speaking and developing other life skills," explained Rochelle Gathje, who has been the Lanesboro FCCLA chapter advisor for the past 14 years.

FCCLA is a national organization with over 200,000 members in nearly 6,500 chapters that focuses on addressing social concerns for teens through education in the family and consumer sciences.

The Lanesboro chapter has 68 members from seventh to twelfth grade and officers are selected from the junior and senior classes.

FCCLA President Megan Kiehne remembers when she joined in seventh grade. "My older friends said it was so much fun," she shared, "Positive peer pressure had a lot to do with my choice, but looking back, I'm so glad it did."

The issues addressed by the FCCLA change every year to fit current teenage concerns in society or personal and work life. Lanesboro has focused its efforts on the no texting while driving campaign as well as in nutrition and bullying awareness.

Students in FCCLA make an impact in their school and their community. Lanesboro recently conducted a clothing drive that benefitted the Thrifty Threads Store in Preston. The high school made it a competition between the grades to see who could bring in the most clothes. The seventh grade class won and the clothes brought in from all grades filled a mini-van.

The FCCLA members also run public fundraisers that allow them to put on an annual breakfast for members and officers and attend competitions. "It's always nice to know that people all over the community already support Lanesboro School and our organizations," Kiehne stated.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, the FCCLA will be having a "Crush for a Crush" in-school fundraiser where students can buy a can of Crush soft drink for their Valentine.

With the money the FCCLA receives from this and similar fundraisers, they will be able to attend regional and state competitions called Students Taking Action with Recognition (STAR) Events. These events allow students to use the skills they have learned in any number of topics from Leadership to Interior Design. All topics are related to family and consumer sciences and for developing leadership, organizational and public speaking skills.

The most popular event is one entitled Illustrated Talks, which requires the student to give a presentation about an important teen concern and to do so with a poster.

Kiehne has seen her confidence grow as she has competed as well. "The group expects me and the other officers to be leaders and to do right things throughout school."

That positive influence can help students prepare their own projects, or to set the right example for others. Gathje plays a supporting role in helping students understand the rules and in determining a good topic, but it is up to the student to research the topic, write it up and present it at the competition. Some topics for this year's competition deal with comparisons between energy drinks and sports drinks and the timely issue of gun safety.

Lanesboro has competed at regionals in January and advanced 50 of their members to the state competition. At regionals, an individual student or team must place at the designated gold or silver level in order to advance. The state competition will take place in April at a state FCCLA conference in Bloomington, Minn. The conference will feature a motivational speaker, talent show, the STAR event competitions, and many opportunities to connect with fellow students and elected state and regional FCCLA officials.

Gathje said other FCCLA members will attend to help out with judging. Those that win at the state level have the opportunity to reach the national competition.

For the students, FCCLA is a fun way to compete and learn more about problems that affect their friends, family and neighbors. Win or lose, it builds valuable awareness within the Lanesboro school and community.

According to Kiehne, "FCCLA has taught me to be a better community member, a leader and that little acts of kindness help."