FreeState Electric Cooperative is sponsoring four local high school students to participate in the 2020 Electric Cooperative Youth Tour and Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp.
Winners were selected based on their application and essay on the topic of cooperative engagement among the next generation of members.
“Students are scored in three areas,” said Sarah Farlee, FreeState’s youth program coordinator. “We look at their student profile (much like a resume), an essay, and an in-person interview at the co-op.”
“Schools in our area should be proud of the young people they are sending our way,” Farlee added. “The caliber of students is phenomenal. Every applicant is outstanding.”
Silver Lake High School junior Mary Kate Gerber and McLouth High School junior Emma Coit will be traveling to Washington, D.C., in June to experience the annual Electric Cooperative Youth Tour. The trip allows students to get an up-close view of government in action, visit national monuments and meet students from across the state and country.
During Youth Tour, FreeState delegates will join 1,800 youth from across the nation in Washington, D.C. They will see the monuments and other attractions, as well as visit Capitol Hill to learn more about how our government works.
Samuel Manus, junior at Tonganoxie High School, and Christopher Raithel, junior at Pleasant Ridge High School, will head west this summer to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to attend the Cooperative Leadership Camp in July. The camp focuses on developing leadership skills, while campers learn the cooperative business model and how it functions. In Colorado, Manus and Raithel will meet students from Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming, in addition to other students from across Kansas. Campers will form a mock “candy cooperative” and learn about leadership and the co-op industry.
“Without our board’s commitment to giving opportunities to young members, we couldn’t provide these incredible opportunities,” said Farlee. “It just proves that the cooperative difference, and development of young leaders is something FreeState is very proud of.”
Each year, the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour and Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp are coordinated by Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (KEC), the statewide service organization for rural electric cooperatives in Kansas. Formed in 1941 and headquartered in Topeka, KEC represents the interests of and provides needed services and programs to the electric cooperatives that serve Kansas. Today, KEC serves 27 distribution cooperatives and three generation and transmission cooperatives providing electricity to over 200,000 Kansas households and approximately 80% of Kansas.
Read more about the delegates and see excerpts from their submitted essays.
Emma Coit is a junior at McLouth High School. She is the daughter Dale and Heather Coit. Emma plays volleyball and basketball; she also plays the clarinet in band and participates in choir. She is a representative for the Student Leadership Academy at Greenbush where she is working with peers to create a kindness project to implement at school. Emma is also a recipient of the distinguished Ira Brammell award for students at McLouth who demonstrate excellence in leadership, academics, and sports.
“The cooperative business model is one that helps everyone. My family and I live in a rural area and we are fortunate enough to benefit from this type of model. We have a say, and a voice in how our utility functions. If it wasn’t for the cooperative, there would not be affordable services available to those of us who live outside city limits, or in more rural communities. This is why it is important for younger members to be involved, because these cooperatives care about members. There is a quote by Helen Keller, ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’ I think this relates to cooperatives. People can work alone, but it just so much more productive if we all work together.
People love causes, and they love hearing stories of people giving back. FreeState gives back to the communities they serve. For example, in April of 2018 FreeState granted McLouth Public Library $3,000 to update computers. This is an important aspect of small-town life. This is just one instance of the charitable work they have done. There are numerous acts of charity and generosity that FreeState has done. When companies uplift communities, people are inspired.
One way to start engaging younger members is through schools teaching the cooperative business model, understanding what it does, and why it is unique. Many students don’t understand this model, and that it benefits them in more ways than they actually see. The more students know about the cooperative model, then more would be willing to get involved.”
Christopher Raithel is a junior at Pleasant Ridge High School. He is the son of Chuck & Anita Raithel. He is involved in 4-H and Boy Scouts, recently earning the rank of Eagle Scout. At PRHS, Christopher is involved in student council, Scholar’s Bowl, and Future Business Leaders of America where he took fourth place in the national FBLA competition in the Intro to Information Technology category. He is a member of the American Kennel Club Junior Handlers and enjoys training dogs.
“Businesses must exhibit values to attract younger generations. Many Americans, especially those entering adulthood, are increasingly conscious of environmental issues that our country is involved in, and as such would be more included to support a business that makes an effort to use clean, renewable energy, or takes on other challenges to decrease its environmental impact and carbon footprint. Members should be kept informed of the cooperative’s progress to complete or maintain these goals.
Other values that younger American’s look for in a business are fair treatment of employees, e.g. no discrimination or pay issues, and actions by management to make the workplace accepting and kind. The cooperative should present itself as caring about its employees and members to make them feel valued and as much more trusting.
All of this needs to be done while still providing a value-efficient service, because no matter how much people care about the environment or making a better community, if they are unable to afford the service, it won’t do much good. As such, it needs to walk a fine line between doing the right thing morally and ethically and doing the right thing in a business sense. By engaging members, it ensures that new members will make their voices heard and provide valuable leadership for the co-op.”
Mary Kate Gerber is a junior at Silver Lake High School. She is the daughter of Doug Gerber and Michele Gerber. Mary Kate runs cross-country and track and plays basketball. She has also been involved in school musicals and journalism. She has participated in Scholars Bowl and debate and was inducted into the National Honor Society. She has also been a delegate at the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Foundation and a delegate at the Kansas Student Council Workshop.
“The next generation, my generation, is not a quiet one.
This generation has been told by experts that the future of Earth is grim, and rather than accepting this they have pushed for changes such as renewable energy in order to save dwindling resources. Investing in alternative power sources such as wind turbines and solar panels demonstrates a commitment toward what youth advocate for. My generation could be used as the face of this movement. They could be the delegates that speak out. They could negotiate land needed, and we can be the engineers that install the systems. Involvement in a movement close to the heart would instill a desire to continue to work with cooperatives such as FreeState, ensuring that the cooperative remains in good hands in the future.
Leaders of the future must be nurtured somewhere if they are to have the skills needed to eventually lead companies. This will only happen through the continuance of programs like FreeState’s Youth Programs that reach students who live in rural areas.
Engaging youth is a simple task. Do not act as though they are isolated from the rest of the population. Entice them by beginning an active conversation. Learn about their passions. Allow them to narrate the story they see for the future. Passions are the fuel that pushes them to improve their leadership skills. A solid support system will allow them to fulfill the positions they are destined for.”
Samuel Manus is a junior at Tonganoxie High School. He is the son of Gretchen Manus. Samuel is actively involved in 4-H and FFA and was recently inducted into the National Honor Society. He runs cross country and also competes for Tonganoxie in the Skills USA program. He founded the Battle Bots team at THS and is a member of the Leavenworth County Youth Leaders. Samuel serves his county by volunteering for the Stranger Township Fire Department.
“Cooperatives look to the upcoming generation of young people to form their strategies for the future. The best way to find them is to engage with them while they are young. Embrace and adapt to the values they hold. Giving young people opportunities and a message to embrace as well and an opportunity to voice their opinions will create a constructive environment.
Keeping up with changes in values and interests can allow co-ops to adapt and present relevant cases to members. A powerful method to connect with members is to identify local issues that they are passionately connected with. Identify why co-ops are different from for-profit companies and providing facts that separate the cooperative from these profit-only focused monopolies, cooperatives can engage members while gaining allies.
Cooperatives are member-owned making them extremely sensitive to the public’s demands and concerns. Co-ops can use this to emphasize that future members will not be a part of an abusive company or pressing tactics, because that type of attitude frightens people. Highlighting the fact that the cooperative business model will be more receptive to conducting business directly with the public, thus giving the local people more say in the happenings of their own region, will strike a chord with future members who desire to be involved with local organizations.”