|MARCH 14, 2011 --
The president is coming to a town near you.
No, not Barack Obama. Jody Cameron.
Who is Jody Cameron?
He is president of the Connecticut State Grange, and is on a mission to regenerate interest in the 125-year-old fraternal organization.
The Grange was founded as an advocacy group for farmers, but now focuses on community service.
Cameron was elected in October. At the age of 44, he became one of the youngest state Grange presidents ever.
He is in the process of visiting every Grange chapter in Connecticut -- there are 58 state Granges and 10 county or regional branches, known as Pomona Granges.
On Sunday, he traveled from his home in the Moosup section of Plainfield to Cheshire Grange No. 23 for a "brainstorming" session with other Grange leaders, his 19th straight day at a Grange event. He is also scheduled to visit Riverton Grange No. 169 on Friday, Winchester Grange No. 74 on March 22 and Bethlehem Grange No. 121 on March 28.
There are roughly 3,200 members statewide, and Cameron wants to double that in four years -- the typical length of a president's term. To achieve that, he is asking every member to convince one person per month to join the Grange.
Cameron also wants to open new Grange chapters and reorganize ones that have gone defunct in the last 10 years. He said the Route 8 corridor is a focus area for the state Grange as many of the rural communities there have become more urban. He believes his organization can foster better relations between agricultural and city folks.
He figures he has a better shot of achieving his goals by making his requests and challenges in person.
"I want to be more than a name on a piece of paper," he said. "I don't want to be someone who just sends out letters. I want this organization to be more influential than the one I received."
Thus far, Cameron's efforts appear to be working. Terri Fassio, spokesman for the Winchester Grange No. 74, said since Cameron's election the Grange is more in the public eye, there's a new level of enthusiasm and participation by existing members, and new people are joining.
The Grange, Cameron said, can be "a collective voice" for legislative issues, at the local, state and national levels. Pushes for change are much more powerful when expressed by a group than by an individual.
The Grange is also able to provide assistance where government agencies cannot, he said. It helps in a number of ways, from sponsoring blood drives to aiding food banks, organizing softball leagues and donating school supplies.
Cameron said the Grange is open to everyone; no one is excluded based on gender, race or religion. Members do have to be at least 14 years old, but the Grange encourages young people not only to join and participate, but to take leadership roles. There are also junior Granges scattered around the state that take members as young as 5.
The Ekonk Community Grange in Sterling, Cameron cited as an example, has a 19-year-old president; the vice president is just under 17. In New Hartford, the treasurer of the Eureka Grange is 19-year-old Victor Salazar.
Salazar was the 2010 National Grange John Trimble Legislative Award winner, which allowed him to serve as an honorary delegate at the annual National Grange convention in North Carolina. He is the state Grange deputy for the Northwest Corner and president of the Connecticut FFA (formerly National FFA Organization).
Salazar said the Grange offers young people leadership and scholarship opportunities, but also becomes like a second family to them.
He said the Grange is reaching out to young people through word of mouth and visits to local high schools, but also through social networking via Facebook and Twitter.
"It's a safe place for them to learn, grow and hang out," he said. "There are no drugs, no alcohol, no one picking on you. It's really a fun place to go."
The Connecticut State Grange is celebrating its 125th anniversary throughout the 2010-11 season. April is also National Grange Month, and many of the local chapters will host open houses, lectures and programs, citizen awards, potluck suppers and other social activities.
The State Grange is scheduled to hold a rally April 3 at the Cheshire Grange, a bowling fundraiser at Highland Bowl in Cheshire on April 9, a cleanup day at Camp Berger in Winchester on April 23 and a "Mystery Night" on April 30.
For a complete list of Granges and events, visit www.CTStateGrange.org.
About the Grange
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry was founded in 1867 to help farmers recover from the ravages of the Civil War. It is the oldest surviving agricultural organization in the country, but nationwide membership is just 240,000 compared to more than 1 million during the first half of the 20th century. Connecticut became the 33rd state Grange in 1875.