As often as I can, I like to return to the Jones Farm in Moniteau County where I grew up. As much as I would like to think that I am
needed back on our farm, it is really just a chance for me to spend some time with my dad catching up on life. Our talks on the farm cover all the bases, including raising kids and cattle. On my most recent trip home, Dad told me about some leadership training he took for his job.
As he related what the training covered it occurred to me that all of this sounded familiar. An old news clipping from the California Democrat Dad had hanging on the wall — me with a grand champion Yorkshire boar at the Moniteau County Fair — reminded me why.
After discussing some of the aspects of this leadership training, my dad and I both realized we had learned this somewhere else — in our local 4-H clubs and FFA chapters.
Like so many other farm kids, I benefi ted greatly from my time with the Busy Bee 4-H Club and California High School FFA (which for you city dwellers stands for Future Farmers of America). I still have a host of ribbons and trophies with the green 4-H clover and my National Blue FFA jacket lettered in Corn Gold. The jacket may not fi t anymore, but the lessons learned still apply to just about everything I do.
Youth programs may differ in their functions, but their mission is essentially the same: build future leaders for this great nation. Or, as the 4-Hers like to say, “To Make the Best Better.”
An investment in our youth is like money in the bank drawing double-digit interest. Teaching young Americans skills like public
speaking, writing an essay or using Robert’s Rules of Order to run a meeting translate into future leaders who someday will guide this country down the right path.
That’s why Missouri’s electric cooperatives can be found supporting rural youth programs wherever possible. Community rooms at some co-op offices serve as meeting space for 4-H clubs, often led by employees of the co-op.
You will see electric co-ops bidding on livestock raised by FFA members at the county fair, teaching them that hard work pays dividends. And many a college student — myself included — benefi tted from a scholarship from their local electric co-op.
Electric co-ops sponsor the state 4-H Leadership Conference. They also back the state FFA Convention and participate in FFA farm tours whenever possible.
On a statewide level, we sponsor the Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. every year. This program challenges rural youth to write an essay, give a speech and hopefully be chosen to represent their cooperative on a trip of a lifetime to the nation’s capital.
Far right is a young Caleb Jones with the Busy Bee 4-H Club. Behind him is his mom.
From their ranks over the years has come a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri, the current state adjutant general, numerous state legislators and a host of leaders in business, government and industry.
Missouri’s electric cooperatives also build leaders through CYCLE, or Cooperative Youth Conference and Leadership Experience. This one is held in Jefferson City, and gives those attending a chance to draft a mock bill and debate it in the House chambers at the Capitol.
Our support includes sponsorship of all Missouri State High School Activities Association events, such as the state sports championships, Scholar Bowl, speech, drama and theater events and music competitions. Whenever a small town makes it to the fi nal four, you can bet your electric co-op employees will be in the stands cheering them on.
Participation in youth activities builds character. I’m proud to be part of an organization that supports our future leaders.
When you see your electric cooperative supporting a 4-H or FFA youth showing a pig, sponsoring a leadership trip or making it possible for that youth to attend college, know that they aren’t just helping an individual. They are investing in the future leaders of Missouri.
Jones is the executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.