Amanda Simmons, Osborne, Karol B., Fields, Lee Ann
Teen 4-H’ers learned firsthand how to form and operate a cooperative business at the annual Co-op Youth Leadership Conference held April 6-8 at the LSU AgCenter Grant Walker Education Center in Pollock.
“We learned that we are not all that different, but we all have our unique abilities,” Ouachita Parish 4-H’er Alec Keomalithong said. “We all try to help each other to become better leaders — that’s what we do here.”
The conference drew 90 teens from across Louisiana for a weekend of workshops, interactive games and fun activities to encourage students to explore the cooperative way of doing business.
Lincoln Parish 4-H teens, Kyler Hughes, Zack Skipper, Jessie Spillers, and Lauren Tinsley, attended the Co-op Youth Leadership Conference.
“Each year it amazes me what these students can do, and it reinforces my confidence in the youth of today,” said Lenny Waguespack, vice president of the Louisiana Division of First South Farm Credit and conference chairman.
“The LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives have co-sponsored the conference for 37 years”, said Waguespack, who has helped organize the conference for about 25 years.
Besides learning more about the essential services provided by locally owned and operated cooperatives, the conference helps participants build teamwork, communication and leadership skills.
Billy Gibson, president of LCFC, said he is always impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the youth.
“The promise that youth will not only learn about the cooperative business model but also apply it as they go through their lives and careers is always gratifying,” Gibson said.
4-H’ers learn what it means to be a patron of a working cooperative by making an investment, purchasing shares and working together as a team to select a business name, elect a board of directors and president, and hire a manager and employees to form the co-op leadership.
“It has taught me a lot about organizing a business,” said Grant Parish 4-H’er Gabrielle Simon, who served as an employee in her group’s cooperative business.
Adding a new dynamic to this year’s conference, delegates split into two groups to form competitive cooperatives selling candy and snacks during break sessions.
LCFC members work with AgCenter staff and other volunteers to plan and organize the conference, teach workshops and serve as mentors.
Terri Crawford, AgCenter 4-H regional coordinator and coordinator for the camp, said all of the activities connect and build upon each other, each one teaching a new component related to the cooperative principles of business.
“It was amazing to see campers unleash their creativity as they worked together to develop a brand, finance and manage a cooperative business,” AgCenter 4-H career development specialist Christina Hebert said.
Matt Fannin, a professor in the AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, spoke to the group about the types of cooperatives and the guiding principles that support the business structure.
Using examples of cooperative investment in broadband infrastructure and electric power, Fannin said he wanted youth to gain a greater understanding of how rural communities benefit by making strategic investments through cooperatives.
“Cooperatives can come in and fill voids where there is demand for products and services that are not otherwise being met by other types of business structures,” Fannin said.
Clay Hebert, LCFC treasurer and Louisiana Land Bank representative, offered tips on acquiring and managing credit and calculating interest rates.
Ed Beall, master lineman with Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperatives Inc., talked with participants about safety around power lines and in areas where workmen are making repairs, sharing what crews do on the front lines to keep the lights on.
Other conference activities included breakout sessions on marketing and supply of products and services, practicing interview skills, taking part in teamwork challenges, and performing commercials to market their business.
“We started taking it seriously and considered everyone’s opinions and become a team together,” said Vernon Parish 4-H’er Ashley Gorrell.
Top-performing 4-H’ers at camp are selected each year to participate in an interview process for a chance to win a state 4-H educational trip sponsored by the LCFC.Blue-ribbon winners receive a $50 award.Winners scoring in the top percentile on the conference knowledge quiz receive certificates of achievement.
Grants from Cenex Harvest States, CoBank, the Association of Louisiana Electric Co-ops, First South Farm Credit and Louisiana Land Bank provide additional funding to support the conference.
This article was written by Karol Osborne, LSU AgCenter Communications Coordinator and submitted by Amanda Simmons, Lincoln Parish Extension.