Not even the COVID-19 pandemic can throw a wrench into the gears of Kansas’ electric co-ops from finding alternate and safe ways to continue the 2021 youth programs in Washington, D.C., and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. With dates recently selected for the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp and for the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, organizers are taking precautions to protect youth and their chaperones while on both trips. In lieu of the trips that were canceled this year due to the pandemic, most co-ops recognized their students individually and in place awarded them with scholarships; some co-ops awarded laptops.
The trips allow youth to experience the cooperative industry, develop leadership skills, build resumes, and create enriching relationships and lasting connections. Although both trips are vastly different, the winners get an experience they wouldn’t be able to get back home.
Shana Read, director of education and training and coordinator of the youth programs for Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., said the youth programs adhere to the seven cooperative principles, in particular, No. 7 — a commitment to the community and No. 5 — education.
“We know that the student leaders today will be the community leaders tomorrow,” Read said. “They will always remember that the electric cooperatives gave them this opportunity.”
Students interested in applying for the youth programs should contact their local electric co-op to inquire about participation in the programs. The process for selecting the youth is different for each co-op and includes applications, essays, and even personal interviews that could be done virtually. The electric co-ops will select the youth winners by February 2021.
Safety is KEC’s No. 1 priority as the 2021 dates draw near for both programs. Two alternate options will be presented if the pandemic causes either program to cancel.
“That could look like a statewide youth leadership convention if it is safe to bring everyone to Topeka or a virtual online webinar series,” Read said.
The Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp chooses nearly 100 students from Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming to spend seven days in Steamboat Springs. The student-driven and led camp offers the opportunity for youth to learn the co-op business model and industry from guest speakers, by raising money for charitable groups and organizations, and by participating in group bonding activities like rafting down the Colorado River.
Washington, D.C., is the base for the nationwide Electric Cooperative Youth Tour with 45 participating states sending more than 1,800 youth to engage in an eight-day tour to experience and explore the nation’s capital learning its history, building leadership skills, and developing lasting friendships. The tour’s original purpose was to teach rural American students about their government and its duties. Students tour the White House and meet with lawmakers.
“Every year I take the students to a professional sporting event or a musical theater event,” Read said. “We really try to give a taste of what the city can bring.”
Kansas electric cooperatives will continue to monitor and update co-op members as details of the 2021 youth trips develop further.