Young leaders return to the Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience
When Twin Rivers High School student Hannah Patterson found out she’d been selected by her local co-op to spend part of her summer vacation in Jefferson City, she admits she didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience, known as CYCLE, the Qulin native recalled when the words of NFL mascot Dan Meers made everything click into place.
“The first thing he taught us was that every day you get a choice on how you’re going to spend your coin,” says Hannah, who was sponsored by Ozark Border Electric. “‘Are you going to invest it and better your life, better yourself and better your relationships?’ That has changed my life.” And those kinds of moments are why Missouri’s electric co-ops send students to unlock their potential as the next generation of rural leaders.
“This is one way electric cooperatives show commitment to their communities, by investing in the students who are going to be the leaders of tomorrow,” says Chris Massman, vice president of member services for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and CYCLE coordinator.
“CYCLE provides an opportunity for students to find leadership themselves, learn about government and cooperatives, and make new friends from across the state in a fun, fast-paced environment.”
Celebrating its 19th year in 2022, CYCLE brings students from around the state to Jefferson City for three days of activities, learning and fun. In between motivational speakers, team building and excursions to local landmarks, delegates learn about state history, government and electric cooperatives. This year’s delegates comprised 91 high school sophomores and juniors sent by 33 electric cooperatives, AMEC and the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives. In the first year back to a traditional format an old adage about CYCLE proved itself true again: Nearly 100 strangers formed fast friendships with one another.
“I joined because I thought this would help with college, and as the event got closer I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to meet so many people here,’ ” says Mia Hunter, sponsored by Three Rivers Electric. “I really loved all of it, and I know for sure I’m going to miss everyone I met.”
The return trip to the state’s capital allowed for some new experiences. For the first time in the program’s history, delegates received an extended tour of one of Jefferson City’s most impressive historic landmarks, the Missouri State Penitentiary. Delegates also heard from motivational speakers including Dan Meers, the man behind the Kansas City Chiefs’ mascot, KC Wolf, and Dawson Propst, a 2020 virtual Youth Tour delegate who shared his experience on how to make the most of the experiences and relationships the CYCLE delegates would form on their own trip to the state’s capital.
Several of CYCLE’s “greatest hits” made their welcome return to the program. Delegates kicked off the 2022 experience with the Build a Cooperative game, where teams assemble their own electric cooperative. Those skills would pay off later when teams raced the clock in a game designed around using critical thinking to decode a puzzle. Sullivan High School student Wyatt Hardy, sponsored by Crawford Electric, says this was his favorite part of the trip and he encouraged future students to apply. “Overall, it was just a fun experience,” he says. “I’m really hoping you’ll feel the same way if you come here.”
A highlight of CYCLE is a debate about a bill written by the delegates. The debate is typically held in the chambers of the Missouri House of Representatives, but due to summer renovations was moved to the AMEC office. The change of venue allowed for a live line electrical safety demonstration by Central Electric Power Cooperative and the chance to check out electric vehicles used by Callaway and Cuivre River electric cooperatives. Delegates also enjoyed a tour and scavenger hunt held in the Missouri State Capitol, and learned about electric co-op careers.
“I wanted to come on CYCLE because I knew it was going to teach me so many leadership skills and maybe even about job opportunities in the future,” says Emma Dampier of Conway, who was sponsored by Laclede Electric. “I’d never been to the Capitol before, and it was cool to learn about the legislative process.”
Reflecting on the three-day trip, Hannah Patterson already knew the impact the program would have on her future. “It taught me to challenge myself and to be better than I already am,” says Hannah. “I have CYCLE to thank for that, and I’ll never forget it.”
For more information on youth programs offered by Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives, visit www.moyouthtour.com/cycle.