Empowered by experience

To say that serving as this year’s Illinois Youth Leadership Council Representative (YLC) has changed my life forever would be an understatement. Being selected by Wabash Communications CO-OP, I attended Youth Day in Springfield as the first step in my yearlong journey.

That day in Springfield was filled with touring the Illinois State Capitol, meeting other students from across our great state, and speaking with state senators and representatives about the inner workings of our government. I knew from the moment I heard the 2022 YLC give her speech on that day that I wanted to be up on that stage the following year.

Starting the day with no previous knowledge as to what a cooperative stood for, I walked away with valuable knowledge that set me up for success in educating others about cooperatives. I got the news from Wabash Communications that it would sponsor my trip to Washington, D.C., and I joined 53 other students from across the state of Illinois for the trip.

While in D.C., we experienced the amazing monuments, museums and people in our nation’s capital city. I enjoyed touring the United States Capitol and having the privilege of laying the wreath at The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. Throughout the trip, we had lessons that taught us all about cooperative principles and values. We also had the chance to put the skills we learned to the test as we got to form our very own cooperative — The Chip and Pop Co-op.

I enjoyed serving on the co-op board and selling drinks and chips to our members on the trip. I walked away with some of the best friendships and memories that I will cherish forever.

In the fall, I had the opportunity to help Wabash Communications teach about broadband in the grade school classrooms at my local school in celebration of National Cooperative Month. I loved reading books to the young students to teach them internet safety.

In March 2024, I attended the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s PowerXChange conference in San Antonio, Texas, where I met the other YLC representatives from each state. I enjoyed getting to know each of them and learning about their states.

It was such a special week getting to sit in on the general sessions, listening to the speakers, and attending the Josh Turner concert, where I caught one of his guitar picks. From touring the River Walk on a boat cruise to learning its history, it was an experience of a lifetime.

I am so excited to attend the Youth Tour again this summer as a chaperone. I can’t wait to watch another group of students be transformed by this trip. Thank you to Brooke Gross (Illinois’ Youth Tour coordinator) and all the chaperones who helped make the Youth Tour possible.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives and all the electric and telephone cooperatives in Illinois that make this possible for students just like me. I am forever grateful for this experience and the lasting impact it has left on my life.

On June 14-21, more than 50 students representing electric and telephone cooperatives across Illinois will attend Youth Tour. They will join others from across the nation for the weeklong event to explore D.C., meet with elected officials and learn about the cooperative program.