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Today is September 24, 2019


Leadership workshop reinforces our faith in Mississippi youth

By Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan
Michael Callahan,
Executive Vice President/CEO
EPAs of Mississippi

I wish anyone who suspects today’s high schoolers of being slackers could have witnessed our most recent Youth Leadership Workshop, in Jackson.

Eighty of the most motivated, accomplished and outgoing high school juniors in Mississippi converged in February for the event, hosted by the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi. They won the trip through competition sponsored by their local electric cooperative.

These students came from all regions of the state and from various backgrounds. Despite their geographical differences, each one arrived with an eagerness to interact with others their age who share a desire to excel in life.

For two and a half days, these students met, mingled and took part in activities designed to challenge their ability to work together, solve problems on the fly and think creatively.

In short, the workshop fosters the development of leadership skills. Participants are encouraged to take what they learned back to their everyday life at school, church and in the community.

They also got a personal brush with state government officials. We invited legislators to join their student constituents at a breakfast, giving the students a chance to meet and actually talk with the people who represent them at the state Capitol—and vice versa. For students interested in a political career, this one-on-one time with a legislator can be especially valuable.

Legislators often comment on the quality of the young participants. Indeed, our Youth Leadership students always represent their schools well; they dress appropriately, ask intelligent questions and speak respectfully.

Both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves spoke to our student group as well and encouraged the students to build careers in their home state.

Another workshop highlight was the selection of Mississippi’s representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Leadership Council. Wallace Bass, of Carthage, was chosen by a panel of judges for this distinct honor.

To summarize, our 2018 Youth Leadership participants proved once again that integrity, academic excellence and community spirit remain alive and well among Mississippi’s top high school students. We at the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi always find working with Youth Leadership students to be a gratifying experience.

While we have their attention, we try to enlighten the students about their electric cooperative. I suspect few teenagers give much thought to where their electricity comes from; they just want it to be available when they need it. Yet they seem more interested after learning that an electric cooperative is a very different kind of utility, a not-for-profit owned and governed by the people it serves. Anyone who holds an account at an electric cooperative is a member (and thus, owner) of the cooperative and may vote for a director to represent them on the cooperative’s governing board. Local ownership, local control, local service from local folks—it doesn’t get more local than an electric cooperative!

We also explain to the students how their electric cooperative works with elected officials in order to safeguard the reliability and affordability of their electric service. All 26 electric cooperatives in Mississippi work as one to ensure that members’ needs are addressed in the state legislature and on Capitol Hill. Through cooperative efforts, rural Mississippians have a powerful voice in Washington.

Later this year, our 2018 Youth Leadership students will go to the polls for the first time. I hope they keep in mind the importance of informed voting, and understand how their choices will ultimately affect their own families and communities.

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