Locally owned public utilities are an intricate part of the communities they serve. But being a good neighbor means more than providing a service. It requires a commitment to local communities.
Nowhere is this more prominent than in the support of youth programs that inspire, educate and offer life-affirming experiences.
Since the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow, utilities invest time, energy and money in programs aimed at young people.
As legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Leaders aren’t born; they are made.”
Youth education and leadership opportunities allow young people to grow and be active in their communities—steadily gaining the skills needed to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Virtually every utility has a program geared toward youth. Below are examples of how some are investing in the future.
One of the most common services utilities provide is electrical safety demonstrations, which often are done in school classrooms or during assemblies. While these safety presentations are meant to be fun, the message is simple: Electricity can be deadly.
Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative in Wewahitchka, Florida, uses its live line safety demonstration trailer—which GCEC employees built—to teach audiences of all ages about the dangers of electricity and how to be safe.
Students also learn how an electric meter records electrical use, and get an introduction to the career and safety equipment of a lineworker.
Umatilla Electric Cooperative in Hermiston, Oregon, coordinates a fun-filled, innovative summer science camp program for students who have just completed fourth and fifth grades.
Hydromania focuses on science, water, the environment and energy. The day camp includes hands-on experiments, activities, field trips and interaction with other students, making it an unforgettable experience.
The Idaho Consumer-Owned Utilities Association’s Annual Youth Rally—held on the College of Idaho campus in Caldwell—is a scholarship competition and student leadership conference rolled into one unforgettable week.
Delegates from Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming participate in a variety of educational activities and classes to build skills in leadership, teamwork, perseverance and self-confidence.
“I think kids need to hear a lot of different perspectives about what leadership means,” says Jeff Marshall, director of member relations for Clearwater Power in Lewiston, Idaho, and chair of the statewide committee that organizes the event. “One of the biggest misconceptions I see is that kids assume the leader is the boss. A leader is so much more than a title. If you have to tell someone you’re the leader, you aren’t a leader.
“Our event fills a niche that other events can’t quite fill because they have their own agenda. This isn’t a career camp. We want the kids to understand their importance in their community and their potential. They get from us an honest, delegate-focused view of what leadership can be, and we hope they are inspired to explore that.”
Students have a chance to learn more about government, drug and alcohol awareness, and the energy industry.
For Idaho and Alaska attendees, the event also serves as the competition for becoming a Washington, D.C., Youth Tour delegate the following summer.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association coordinates the Youth Tour to the nation’s capital each year. The all-expense-paid trips—sponsored by consumer-owned utilities across the country—include educational seminars, information about cooperatives, team-building activities, sightseeing, and plenty of time for fun and making friends.
This year, more than 1,000 students attended the nearly weeklong event from 28 states after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. States staggered travel dates between June 14 and 24. In 2019, nearly 2,000 students traveled to Washington, D.C., from 43 states.
Students return home eager to share what they learned with the community, becoming goodwill ambassadors for the utility.
Many utilities distribute thousands of dollars in scholarships every year for members or customers and their children to pursue college degrees or vocational training.
Mohave Electric Cooperative in Bullhead City, Arizona, announced a new scholarship program this year funded by assigned capital credits, awarding two students $5,000. This annual scholarship is in addition to the thousands of dollars provided to Mohave Community College each year for student scholarships.
“Education, Training and Information are part of the Seven Cooperative Principles upheld by MEC to support the future of even the youngest of our members, if and when we can,” Chief Financial Officer Ardie Lauxman says.
In Wauchula, Florida, Peace River Electric Cooperative’s Operation Round Up charitable foundation grants college scholarships to several students each year—high school seniors and college students. Since 2006, PRECO has provided more than $1.1 million in scholarships to 234 students.
Even with good education and training, breaking into the workforce can be a challenge. Tillamook People’s Utility District in Tillamook, Oregon, has supported local youth through the College Work Program and Electrical Lineworker Program Scholarship, instilling confidence and supporting them in their career aspirations.
Developed in 1965, the College Work Program provides employment during breaks for local students pursuing college or career technical training after high school. Students have a job with the PUD for the duration of their school years.
Since its inception, 62 students have participated in the College Work Program.
In 2021, Tillamook PUD added the Electrical Lineworker Program Scholarship. It was developed to encourage and support young adults looking toward careers as electrical lineworkers. Tillamook PUD offers two $10,000 scholarships.
Big Bend Electric Cooperative in Ritzville, Washington, offers job shadowing to any area high school student interested in a career available at the cooperative: lineworker, accounting, engineering or member services.
“We believe the job-shadowing program is an important element to offer area students because it provides an opportunity to show them career possibilities in their hometown that they may not have realized were available,” says Manager of Member Services Kelly Haugh. “For instance, job shadowing our lineworkers gives kids an up-close view of a career they might not have even known existed. For those wanting to stick close to home after graduation, it shows them career opportunities that can be rewarding and lucrative even in a small-town environment.”