Nearly four years after Cook and Griffin helped form the Southeast Missouri Farm Safety 4 Just Kids Chapter, the group has presented farm safety demonstrations and information to over 10,000 children. Each year they've received some type of award for their efforts.
Most recently the local chapter was awarded the Melting Pot Award by the non-profit organization headquartered in Urbandale, Iowa. The award recognizes those who coordinate other organizations to work toward FS4JK's mission to prevent injuries and deaths on farms.
Winners were selected based on the number of programs they conduct, the number of people they reach at an event, the uniqueness of their programs and the number of volunteer hours they log.
"We didn't really know we would get the award," Griffin said.
Other awards the chapter has received over the years include Outstanding New Chapter, Keeping Kids the Key award and Chapter of the Year.
"The SEMO chapter is one of our top performing chapters. Their awards are a testament to how hard they work," said said Tyler Vacha, FS4JK chapter and membership director.
Less than the top 10 percent of the 132 chapters in the United States and Canada receive awards from the headquarters each year.
"It is pretty rare to receive an award every year," Vacha said.
FS4JK produces and distributes educational materials on various farm safety and health topics. It's supported by a chapter network of grassroots volunteers throughout the United States and Canada who conduct programs to educate rural families within their communities.
"We feel we have a very important endeavor in educating kids to be safe on the farm," Vacha said. "Keeping the rural youth safe is very important to sustain not only the nation but worldwide food supply. These are our future generations of farmers. If they don't stick around to grow the next crop, everyone suffers."
In 2007, the SEMO chapter participated in 13 events that were attend by 1,847 people and recorded 115 volunteer hours.
"We've got contacts in different organizations throughout the area --Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi and Stoddard counties --and our service is spread out pretty good," Cook said.
Local school organizations and other groups like 4-H and Boys and Girls Scouts also utilize the chapter's programs.
"We didn't think it would be as successful as is," Griffin said.
But Griffin knows firsthand the importance of educating children about farm safety. A few years ago, his then 12-year-old son was trapped inside a grain bin.
"The grain was up to his shoulders. He was OK, but stuff like that happens around here, and anything we can do to prevent it, we'll do," Griffin said. ATV, helmet and grain bin safety are among the most important topics addressed by the various programs presented by the chapter, Cook and Griffin said.
The chapter representatives recalled a moment following one of their visits to a local school, and it included the flowing grain demonstration, which shows children how the grain can crush and suffocate them if they fell in a wagon full of grain.
"When we finished, we were at one station and a little girl who was halfway across the basketball court came running back to me and I was down on my knees talking to some other kids. She hugged me and said thank you for teaching me about safety on the farm. Then she said, 'We were playing in grandpa's grain bins this week and didn't know it could hurt us,'" Griffin said.
Adults also think the program is beneficial.
"We ask teachers if it was worth their classroom time and they're all really pleased with it. I don't remember us ever going anywhere and not being asked to come back," Cook said, adding the chapter often repeats events each year.
Every kid in this area needs to know about the potential dangers of a farm, Griffin said.
"Even if they're raised off the farm, there's so much they need to know because they just don't understand," Griffin said.
Griffin said the chapter's success is due to the time volunteers put into the program. Besides Cook and Griffin, Linda Pearson and George Lance are also chapter volunteers. All four are employees of Monsanto in Matthews, which is one of the sponsors for FS4JK.
As for what's in the future for the local chapter, Cook and Griffin said programs will be expanding to include information on the hazards of rural driving and the dangers of farm chemicals.
"Farm Safety 4 Just Kids touches on so many topics," Cook said. "It will be a benefit to kids one way or another and they will use this stuff we're trying to teach them."
For more information about the SEMO Chapter or borrowing materials, contact Cook or Griffin at (573) 475-3032.