- Are you a sophomore or junior in High School?
- Are your parents members of High Plains Power?
- Do you want to spend a week at the Glen Eden Resort near Steamboat Springs, CO?
- Do you want to meet other high school students from Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas or Nebraska?
- Do you want to learn about cooperatives, learn about government and build your communication/leadership skills?
- Do you want to do all of this at no cost to you?
Well then, the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp is for you!
If interested, please contact High Plains Power at 307-856-9426 or 1-800-445-0613.
Inspiring the next generation of rural leaders
by Nicole Carlson, Tri-State G&T
It is 7 a.m. on a Friday morning in mid-July. The sun is just beginning to cast a morning glow over Glen Eden Resort in Clark, Colo. — a precursor to the impending warm temperatures the day will surely bring. Amidst the sounds of chirping birds and the gurgling of the nearby Elk River, 80 teenagers are saying tear-streaked goodbyes to new-found friends. A charter bus awaits, ready to transport a large portion of them to their hometowns in Kansas and Oklahoma, while a caravan of white vehicles sits patiently, waiting for those who call Wyoming and Colorado home.
For an onlooker, it may be hard to conceive that just a few days prior, most of these young adults were strangers. Witnessing their elongated hugs and overhearing their promises to "keep in touch," it is hard not to feel touched by the relationships and bonds created in such a short time.
But, as those who have experienced it can attest — a week of camp can do that.
For more than 30 years, the Colorado Electric Education Institute (CEEI) has fostered relationships such as these by hosting the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp for high school students from electric co-op-served households. What began as a small project involving Colorado students has evolved into a bustling week of activities for up-and-coming leaders hailing from Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. In total, more than 80 students participate each year.
The attendees are chosen by their sponsoring rural electric cooperatives. And, in many cases, the trip is entirely funded by the co-ops, providing an opportunity that might otherwise not be feasible for many families in these tough economic times.
While at the leadership camp, attendees spend five days learning about the rural electric cooperative system, the democratic process and how the electric system works. Although there is much to absorb during the week, camp organizers strive to create a fun environment, incorporating a number of hands-on projects, live demonstrations and tours to such places at Tri-State’s 1,274-megawatt, three-unit, coal-based Craig Station in northwest Colorado.
As its name implies, the camp has a large focus on leadership, which, according to Ashley Valdez, current camp director and the communications manager for Tri-State member San Isabel Electric Association (Pueblo West, Colo.), is a valuable aspect of the program.
"These young people are the future leaders of our communities," said Valdez. "It’s important to provide them with an opportunity to learn about the importance of electric cooperatives and hone their leadership skills."
While each camper lives in a rural cooperative household, they may not be aware of the origin of rural electrification or how electric cooperatives work. At camp, they not only learn the story, but also the values and business model that encompass the consumer-owned cooperative difference.
Just hours after arrival, the campers form a cooperative, electing a board of directors which then collectively hires a general manager to over-see the day-to-day activities of camp. Additionally, a group of campers volunteer to run the canteen, offering food and drink for sale. The process mirrors that of a "real" rural electric cooperative. In fact, at the culmination of the week’s activities, the campers choose what to do with the profits from the canteen, which emulates a real cooperative’s capital credits retirement. For the past few years, they have voted to return the profit back to the camp.
Camp operations manager Jonathan Thornton, strategic communications specialist at Tri-State, manages the canteen: "The canteen serves two purposes at camp as it teaches campers about being part of a co-op and provides a food and beverage for everybody. When the kids arrive, they pay 50 cents to become a part of the camp co-op receive a t-shirt. The volunteers who staff the canteen in shifts learn teamwork and have fun doing it. Good times are had by all."
Observing the camp in its setting at Glen Eden, an on-looker may find it hard to believe that this place has not always housed the Cooperative Youth Leadership Camp, as it seems like such a natural fit. Prior to 2000, however, the camp took place in Steamboat Springs. According to Valdez, the move has definitely been for the best.
"The glen really provides the best environment for camp," said Valdez. "It lends itself perfectly to the day-to-day activities and allows a safe, enjoyable and relaxed learning experience for the campers."
The location of the camp has not been the only change that has taken place over the years. Valdez, who just closed the books on year two of three as camp director, has witnessed a number of alterations to the management and activities of the multi-state event.
"As with any successful program, the youth camp evolves each year as changes are made to improve upon the foundation of camp," she said. "There are certain things at camp that we just know work. But, others are more flexible and we like to try new things. Each year provides a learning experience, not only for the campers, but for the counselors and others who manage the event."
Some of those changes include rotating the director position every three years to an employee of varying Colorado co-ops. Additionally, this year a new position of operations manager was added in an effort to extend cohesiveness and continuity beyond the changing of directors. The changes are necessary to keep the camp running smoothly, especially when one considers how many individuals are involved during the week — around 70 first-time campers, eight ambassadors, who were elected last year by the membership to return for a second year, and counselors, totaling around 110 individuals. This number doesn’t include speakers and other guests, such as linemen, who visit the camp throughout the week.
Although Valdez and those who have served before her as camp directors may see their duties peak during camp week, the stint is one that continues year-round.
"It can be challenging adding all of the administrative tasks that go along with serving as camp director to the regular, day-to-day responsibilities of our jobs," said Valdez. "But, over the years we’ve divided some of the work so the director position has a lot of help along the way."
The cooperative spirit shines through in the process of preparing for camp, as those involved band together to get the job done. Additionally, cooperatives send employees to assist as counselors for the week.
"It’s really a team effort," Valdez said.
It is due to the attractive activities and the smooth management of the camp that is so appealing to those who attend. The camp is so popular, in fact, that it fills to capacity each year.
The reasons for coming to camp vary amongst attendees. For many, it’s a chance to visit Colorado, meet people and learn something new. For others, gaining leadership experience tops the list of reasons to attend.
Tawny Wells, a resident of Deaver, Wyo., and member of Big Horn Rural Electric, is of the latter group.
"I wanted to attend camp to become a better leader," she said. "I used to be really shy and being involved in things like this camp has provided me with the opportunity to get over that."
The high school sophomore is involved in FFA and a number of sports. She initially heard of camp through a past attendee. Wells had such a good time, that she ran for and was elected to return to camp next year as the female ambassador representing Wyoming.
"I really like it," said Wells. "It’s so much different from other camps I have attended and I’ve had so much fun."
Although at its forefront, the camp is based on teaching leadership skills, the cooperative model and rural electrification, the friendships and the interactions between the campers also lend a large part of what one takes away from the experience. It is apparent through the observation of camp attendees that these students leave with much more than an extended knowledge of electricity. They take with them an experience like none other and one they will not soon forget.