Youth Power Energy Camp shines new light on leadership
At Youth Power Energy Camp, campers get to experience a day in the life of a lineworker. Photos by Ryan West
The morning sun makes the dew on the grass at Canyon Camp in Hinton, Oklahoma, glisten like diamonds. The drops are soon transferred to campers’ sneakers, eagerly running from their cabins to their town hall meeting to hear the agenda for the day.
More than 70 Oklahoma eighth-graders have been selected to represent their local rural electric cooperatives at the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives’ (OAEC) Youth Power Energy Camp. 2019 marks the first year of a “camp revamp” filled with positive programming for the students of today. Campers spend the week making new friends, empowering each other’s leadership skills and discovering how the impact of their cooperative extends far beyond service territory boundaries.
Adrian Leal is always moving. Like the other campers, he’s enjoying trying the electric bicycle and taking rides in the bucket truck, but he’s also moving with intention. Leal is checking on other kids, inviting them to play ball or sit with him at lunch.
“It’s not cool to see people on the sidelines,” Leal, a CKenergy Electric Cooperative member, says. “I want to do my part to help everybody feel a part of camp; it’s really fun.”
Throughout the week, the camp becomes its own living example of a cooperative. All campers have the opportunity to become elected to the board of directors and interview for the manager position. Leal’s dedication to keeping everyone involved is one of the reasons he was elected this year’s camp manager.
“I was really excited when I found out they chose me,” Leal says. “I wanted to see if I could help our community stay active and help our earth stay clean for generations to come.”
As general manager, Leal served as the voice of the campers. Camp is divided into seven communities, all named after Oklahoma towns and cooperatives. He was responsible for ensuring communities and activities ran smoothly, just like an actual general manager does at an electric cooperative.
Leal knew bits and pieces about electric cooperatives before coming to camp, but he was surprised to learn how much co-ops connect to people. He has a lot of years left to decide what he wants to do, but he is considering coming back to CKenergy Electric Cooperative to apply as a mechanic someday.
“Everybody has a leadership part to play. If you don’t lead in your role, your system or your economy is going to fail,” Leal says.
Adrian Leal tries the electric bicycle. Photo by Ryan West
Developing unique leadership skills became a guiding light when restructuring Youth Power Energy Camp. Stacy Howeth, OAEC director of member services, wanted to ensure all campers not only learn what cooperatives stand for, but to also understand that co-ops are created for and led by communities.
“Our goal is for these campers to develop and understand their worth, discover the cooperatives’ connection to community, and learn how these relationships all work together,” Howeth says.
Energy campers enjoy days full of leadership activities. Photo by Ryan West
Howeth brought in renowned public speaker, Brandon Gosselin, an Alfalfa Electric Cooperative member. Gosselin has a fascinating inspirational story of overcoming adversity. At just 24 years old, he now owns two companies, both of which focus on giving back to the communities that built him.
“The sense of community in Oklahoma is far and above anywhere else,” Gosselin says. “The biggest idea I want campers to take home this week is the understanding that they are not alone in this world.”
Gosselin communicates to the campers that every individual has innate leadership qualities and that serving others is one of the greatest examples of leadership. He likes to help kids to focus on “soft skills” like holding a conversation.
“This camp is important because it allows for kids to disconnect from technology for four days, open up about themselves, and learn about other people,” Gosselin says.
Braydan Miller, a Red River Valley Rural Electric Association member, found inspiration in Gosselin’s speech. Although he had not had any previous leadership experience, he made the decision to run for the camp’s board of directors.
Each board member is a representative of his or her own community. The board members are leaders throughout the camp and help counselors with a variety of activities, like introducing speakers or assisting during presentations.
“Even though I was a little nervous, I told myself, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,’” Miller says. “I was really excited to get elected. I’ve had a lot of fun helping everyone out and learning how power is generated.”
Campers get a first-hand look “behind the switch” to learn how their own homes receive power. In addition to learning how electricity is generated, they also get to meet co-op employees who work together to provide safe, affordable and reliable electricity.
During the “Life of a Lineworker” day, campers have a chance to try on safety equipment and climb a pole. They also see a high-voltage demonstration and hear from Oklahoma Energy Trails Foundation volunteers.
Camper Tylor Sullivan was especially interested in hearing about bringing power to Guatemalan villages that have never had electricity before.
“It really inspired me, and I hope when I get older I can be a lineman and do things that y’all do,” Sullivan, an East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member, says.
Campers also get to be on the cutting edge of technology and interact with a Tesla, electric bicycles, a drone and even a robot.
Students interact with Pepper the Robot. Photo by Ryan West
Darryll Lindsey, senior marketing specialist at Associated Electric Cooperative, has been providing demonstrations for many years. He says this year was especially interesting because for the first time campers got to take a virtual reality tour of a coal powered plant, something the average person may never get to see in their lifetime.
“When the kids removed their goggle set, they were still wide-eyed at being immersed around such massive equipment,” Lindsey says. “Thanks to the advances of technology, we can put this knowledge in the hands of kids in rural America—it’s pretty amazing.”
Lindsey says the value of educating these young adults through camp is immeasurable. Getting the time to show campers the opportunities they have to give back to their own communities as a kid, an adult and a member is a direct reflection of the seventh cooperative principle, “Concern for Community.”
As all the campers pack up to return to their hometowns, they do so with new friendships, a sense of gratitude and excitement for their future ahead.
“Thank you to the cooperatives,” Leal says. “It’s inspiring to see how they would spend time on kids to watch us have fun, learn and have an opportunity to become the next leaders, and to give them the chance to pass down their knowledge to other kids.”
To learn more about Youth Power Energy Camp, contact your local electric cooperative.