Our energy, our future leaders

By Jacob Brooks
Our energy, our future leaders

Members of the 2013–2014 Youth Leadership Council representing 42 states. They learn about issues affecting electric cooperatives, help staff the cooperatives national convention, and take on leadership roles in their communities.

In July, I had the privilege of returning to Washington, D.C., to assist with the Youth Leadership Council conference sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. These were students from 42 states who were participants in the 2013 Rural Electric Youth Tour, a national program sponsored by electric cooperatives that sends students to the nation’s capital in June. When they were in Washington on the Tour, this group was selected to represent their states on the Youth Leadership Council. In July they participated in educational workshops at NRECA and at the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation. Not only did they learn the ins-and-outs of advocacy for cooperatives and about the issues facing electric cooperatives, they gained insight into the values and skills it takes to be a leader.

A central focus of my trip was to help select this year’s Youth Leadership Council national spokesperson. With my colleagues, I listened to the students tell how the Youth Tour impacted their lives.

They told us how the Youth Tour experience was the first time some of them saw more than three traffic lights in one town. We heard about their first plane ride being a stressful experience, how baggage claim carousels can be confusing to an inexperienced traveler. They told how they were inspired by their experiences in Washington, how humbling it was to stand before memorials to World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Some discussed the gratitude they have always had for our men and women in uniform, and how after walking through Arlington National Cemetery they truly understood the sacrifice our soldiers have made and continue to make. I heard about their growth in patriotism as they stood before the Declaration of Independence. But, most importantly, I heard about the strength and confidence the Youth Tour instilled in them.

Many of these students shared stories of a modest upbringing in rural America and how an opportunity like the Youth Tour is something they only could have dreamed of. I heard about how the Youth Tour changed their lives and broadened their horizons. This phenomenal experience is changing the lives of thousands, just as it did mine.

You, of course, as member-owners of your cooperatives, make all of this possible. Without your support of the Youth Tour, we wouldn’t be able to impact the thousands of young lives that we do. You give students like me a chance to grow and become something. Whether it’s a lawyer, teacher or lineman, everyone needs to know they have someone in their corner. So thank you, rural America, for changing these young lives.

A personal testimony from Karina, the New York delegate (she’s at the very top of the line in the photo):

“I just got back from Washington, D.C., with this year’s Youth Leadership Council. I can honestly say this was one of the most life-changing experiences of my entire life. I met so many interesting people, including the wonderful folks from NRECA, CFC and other YLC alumni. My group was absolutely amazing. I’ve made best friends from 42 different states who I know I will be in contact with for the rest of my life. We truly became a family and I am eternally grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to meet so many fantastic people and learn so much about what truly bonds us as a family of electric cooperatives.”

Keep it up, rural America. You’re growing this country’s future leaders.

About the Author

Jacob Brooks of Alleghany County, who represented electric cooperatives as the 2010 national Youth Leadership Council spokesman, heads to Appalachian State University as a sophomore this fall.

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