Leading the Way

Mountain View Electric Association Community Relationship Specialist Erica Meyer teaches a Girl Scout troop about electrical safety with the Story Behind the Switch. Photo courtesy MVEA.

Electric co-ops help develop the leaders of tomorrow

The benefits of co-op membership flow to members of all ages, and for the youth of Colorado’s electric cooperatives, those benefits include exclusive leadership and educational opportunities.

Remaining true to the cooperative principle of Concern for Community, the state’s local electric co-ops deliver on their commitment to youth through scholarships, leadership experiences, and community grants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Read on to learn more about the highvalue awards and experiences available specifically to co-op youth across Colorado.

National Rural Electric Youth Tour

Students who’ve been awarded the opportunity to attend the annual National Rural Electric Youth Tour in Washington, D.C., say it’s the experience of a lifetime. The weeklong program is open to high school students ages 16 years and older who live in an electric co-op service area. With roots dating to the 1950s, the tour brings together more than 1,500 high schoolers from smaller and rural communities across the U.S. every June.

High school students from electric co-op
communities travel to Washington, D.C., to
participate in the National Rural Electric Youth Tour each June.

Students join in educational seminars, explore Washington, D.C.’s, famous monuments and museums, and spend a full day on Capitol Hill meeting with their state’s congressional delegation. They learn how electric co-ops operate and about issues affecting electric co-ops at the state and national level.

“Our students say it’s very moving to go to a big place like Washington, D.C., and see all the memorials and monuments,” said Maddie Pollart, communications and public relations coordinator at Fort Morgan-based Morgan County REA. “They learn how electric co-ops work, and we increase the number of MCREA advocates.”

The tour is valued at more than $2,500 and all expenses, including transportation, lodging, meals, and admission fees are paid by the student’s local co-op.

Colorado’s Leading Summer Camp

High schoolers who live in electric co-op service areas throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas can apply to attend one of the best youth leadership camps in the Rocky Mountains. The Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp has been helping develop tomorrow’s leaders for nearly 30 years.

“One of the things I like most about our youth leadership programs is how they engage people in learning what a cooperative is, what it means, and how people benefit from it,” said Rita Sanders, director of marketing and communications at Grand Valley Power, based in Grand Junction.

Cooperative Youth Leadership campers from
Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma,
enjoy a week near Steamboat Springs each July thanks to their electric co-op.

The leadership camp takes place over six days every July near Steamboat Springs and is free to the 100 students selected to attend. During the one-of-a-kind camp, the young leaders work together to create their own functioning cooperative while learning about electric safety, studying state and federal legislative processes, and honing their communication and leadership skills. Hiking, rafting, tours, and social activities round out the memorable Colorado camp experience.

Supporting Students’ Futures

A diverse offering of scholarships may be open to high school seniors who live within electric co-op service boundaries and plan to attend college or trade school following graduation. Some co-ops offer more than a dozen scholarships with varying criteria, and many also offer awards for returning postsecondary students already attending college or trade school.

Lineworker scholarships are another way electric co-ops support members of their communities by helping prepare them for a solid career while supporting the needs of the electric utility industry.

“With retirements happening and not as many students going into the trades, it’s really important,” Sanders said. “We want to contribute to educating the next generation of lineworkers.”

Supporting the education of future lineworkers is a win-win. Sangre de Cristo Electric Association in Buena Vista, Grand Valley Power, and Morgan County REA are among those state co-ops that have hired previous lineworker scholarship recipients who have chosen to apply to their operations.

Supporting Local Schools

Colorado electric co-ops’ support of community youth is on display inside local school classrooms statewide. For example, Fort Collins-based Poudre Valley REA grants annual awards for K-12 classroom projects to support educational projects that focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. And San Isabel Electric in Pueblo West prioritizes youth causes when considering donation requests from the community.

A student experiences the wonders of static electricity with a Van de Graaff electrostatic generator demonstration during the Story
Behind the Switch educational program. Photo courtesy MVEA.

When it comes to teaching students about electricity and safety, local electric co-ops have been a long-standing, valuable resource for educators. White River Electric Association participates in its local elementary school’s safety demo day every spring, and co-op staff help judge the middle school’s annual renewable energy science projects.

Mountain View Electric Association is among the many co-ops statewide that deliver the Story Behind the Switch program to local elementary schools and clubs, teaching children about electricity and safety through fun hands-on activities. This spring alone, eight schools in MVEA’s co-op community booked the program for multiple presentations.

“It’s very popular with teachers,” said Erica Meyer, community relations specialist at MVEA in Falcon. “For us, it’s twofold with the kids: educating them about electrical safety, and as they get older, creating future leaders who live in our co-op community.”

Don’t Miss Out 

Colorado’s local electric co-ops are eager to help develop the next generation of leaders in their communities, and they provide generous support to do so.

“Concern for Community is a pillar of cooperatives, and we especially want to invest in the youth of our community because they are our future,” Pollart said.

A wealth of opportunities are available to electric co-op youth of all ages, and members are encouraged to check co-op websites, get support from teachers and guidance counselors, and submit a strong application. It could result in a lifechanging experience!

Mary Peck lives in Northern Colorado and is a lifelong champion of electric cooperatives. She enjoys sharing stories about life in rural communities with broad audiences.