The Future Business Leaders of America

The plastic bags stretched to their limit, struggling to hold the heavy aluminum cans they were filled with. Students laughed quickly, slightly out of breath from lugging around 20 pounds of donated food. They loaded up the truck and waved, happy to help their community.

From Oct. 27 to Nov. 4, The Future Business Leaders of America, or FBLA, collected thousands of donated canned food items from classrooms to benefit the Smithfield Salvation Army. The club holds the can drive annually, each year aiming to collect more items than in the previous year.

“We donated over 2500 items to the Salvation Army this year. Last year we did right under 2000. This year our goal was 2000 or more and [we] met it,” said club advisor and tennis coach Amanda Fisher.

FBLA membership is on the rise– according to Fisher, chapter membership has increased 15% from the 2013-2014 school year to the current semester.

“I joined FBLA because of taking previous business classes that made me want to get more involved with the subject, and I had heard good things about it from my coach [Fisher],” member Veronica McLean said.

FBLA aims to prepare students for the business world by having them compete, dressed professionally, in a corporate environment. Chapters from across the region, state, and nation gather at upscale business convention centers for annual tournaments.

“FBLA competitions test computer applications proficiency… Microsoft word, personal finance, Microsoft Excel, Access, public speaking…we do a lot of that, business skills– typing reports, writing up emails, etc,” member Casey Ford said.

The can drive is FBLA’s chapter-specific community service project. Donations are given to the Smithfield branch of the Salvation Army, where they are then processed and distributed to needy families in time for the holiday season. The club combined their donation pool with the new-founded school food bank.

“The drive definitely helps the Smithfield Salvation army– we’re one their largest contributors. This year we doubled our expectations and were able to help the food bank at West as well as the Salvation Army,” McLean said.

FBLA events put a focus on developing the interpersonal interaction skills some students lack. The conventions encourage total strangers to stop and have full conversations, following business protocol throughout. While hosting the can drive, club members were able to prepare for competitions by utilizing their people skills.

“FBLA prepares you for the business aspect of the world, also on people skills. When we had to stand outside of Food Lion we

had to approach people, some were rude, some weren’t,” member Jayla Crisp said.

The speaking element of FBLA does not come naturally to all members. Events like the drive are intended to push those students– the business world does not allow for shyness. Crisp shares how these learning experiences are sometimes laughable.

“My favorite moment was my first day this year collecting at Food Lion. Sabria [another member] was confused– she didn’t know what to say to the people approaching. She was stuttering and kept repeating herself over and over again and they just walked away eventually. I laughed,” Crisp said.

FBLA membership is open to any student enrolled in a computer skills class. Fisher is currently encouraging interested students to join and attend the FBLA state conference.

“FBLA has taught me how to deal with a variety of different people and how to handle being in difficult situations. When we have our yearly conference you’re interacting with people all across the state and its good exposure,” McLean said.