A lot of names have been coined to describe the nation’s youth. You’ve probably heard of Generation X, Millennial Kids, Boomerangs and the Google Generation. These terms often seek to stereotype today’s youth as a generation that only cares for themselves and the strength of their wireless signal.
Your electric cooperative looks at our youth in an entirely different way. We see them as future torchbearers, a Generation L, which stands for leader. That’s why electric cooperatives devote so much time and energy to supporting rural youth.
Around the state, you can find electric cooperative employees involved in just about every type of youth activity there is: 4-H, FFA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to name just a few.
One of my earliest jobs with Missouri’s electric cooperatives was to accompany a group of teenagers on a co-op-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C., called the Youth Tour. I said it after my first such trip, and our current Youth Tour director, Mike Marsch, has said it after every trip he’s been on: If the kids who take part in Youth Tour are any indication, the future of our nation is in great hands.
When it comes to future leaders, often all that is required is a slight nudge in the right direction. That is what our youth programs do best. For example, being selected for the Youth Tour requires writing an essay or putting together a presentation, then standing in front of a group in your best suit or dress and getting your first taste of public speaking.
Those who earn the honor of representing their electric cooperative on this “trip of a lifetime” are exposed to different cultures as they mingle with hundreds of other rural youth from other states. They learn what makes electric cooperatives different from other forms of business, see the monuments to America’s greatness and meet face to face with Missouri’s congressional delegation.
For more than 50 years, the Youth Tour has fulfilled the dream of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who inspired the trip in 1957 when he declared, “If one thing goes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”
This year, Missouri will send its largest group ever to our nation’s capital — more than 100 of the best and brightest.
But our quest to create new leaders won’t end when the Youth Tour delegates say their final teary-eyed goodbyes. In July, another 100-plus rural youth will descend on Jefferson City for the annual Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience, or CYCLE.
This event, now in its 13th year, is an intense but fun-filled focus on how state government works. During its three days, the CYCLE program takes youth to the Missouri Capitol where they sit in the same desks occupied by their elected officials and craft their own mock legislation.
We also work closely with 4-H and FFA, sponsoring their state conferences and award programs.
Another program that gets strong support from Missouri’s electric co-ops is Agricultural Leadership of Tommorrow, or ALOT. That group often meets at our statewide headquarters. I am always impressed by the enthusiasm from these young men and women who want to improve our state’s largest industry.
By hosting these programs, we hope to serve as a stepping stone for youth leadership development. It is our sincere hope that these youth return to their communities and continue to learn from local leaders, educators and electric co-op staff so they will move into positions of leadership later in life.
Whether it is paying for a trip to our nation’s capital, offering meeting space to local 4-H clubs or giving up time to umpire a Little League game, electric cooperatives see supporting youth as a wise investment to ensure we will always have leaders to move rural Missouri forward.