Gabriel Gonzalez from Crowell, TX and Gavin Sonnenberg from Frederick, OK attended the 2021 Virtual Oklahoma Youth Tour Leadership Conference (OKYTLC) June 22 - 25 hosted by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC). Gonzalez and Sonnenberg were sponsored by Southwest Rural Electric to attend OKTYLC and received scholarships earlier this year for winning the cooperative’s annual Youth Tour essay and speech competition.
Approximately 50 rising high school seniors, selected by Oklahoma’s Electric Cooperatives, met online each morning to interact with one another and the impressive slate of guest speakers. Kicking the conference off was Janine Stange, “The National Anthem Girl,” who shared her journey of singing the national anthem in every state in America and encouraged students to not let fears or doubts overshadow their desire to chase their dreams. Jim Matheson, NRECA CEO, educated students on electric cooperative history and the impact that co-ops have had in rural America. Students heard stories from many local elected officials: Congresswoman Stephanie Bice, Rep. Mike Osburn, Rep. Cyndi Munson, and Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Todd Hiett. Each speaker shared how they became interested in politics and why it’s important for students get involved in politics however they can. Laura Vogel, Senior Advisor for NRECA Political Affairs, and Leann Paradise, NRECA Senior Grassroots Associate, presented the Co-ops Vote program and how students can advocate for America’s electric cooperatives.
On the final day of the conference, students were invited to attend an awards luncheon at the OAEC Conference Center. Tim Downing, Associate Attorney General of Oklahoma, and Ryan Walters, Oklahoma Secretary of Education, made guest appearances and spoke with the students about their individual worth and their abilities to make a difference in their communities.
Throughout the week, students logged onto social media to get instructions on their daily challenges. Each completed daily challenge was one entry for a chance to receive a scholarship at the end of the conference. Students were challenged to develop their core values, come up with a community project they could do with their sponsoring co-ops, and send emails to their elected officials on a topic they are passionate about. After students received their conference certificates, Stacy Howeth, OAEC Director of Member Services, announced the recipients of the OKYTLC scholarship drawings: Maridian Bales of Northfork Electric Cooperative, Gabriel Gonzalez of Southwest Rural Electric, and Makynna Wood of Northwestern Electric Cooperative. Congratulations, Gabriel!
“The 2021 OKYTLC program gave students the opportunity to discover their strengths through personal leadership, learn the benefits and opportunities of being involved in a cooperative and resources to get involved in the legislative process and interact with their elected officials,” said Howeth. “This year’s student leaders were actively engaged and a pleasure to host during the conference. I’m proud of the growth I saw during the week and encourage the students to continue their efforts for personal development as they move into their senior year and beyond.”
SWRE would like to thank the OKYTLC/OAEC staff for putting together this unique leadership opportunity for our Youth Tour winners, along with all the amazing guest speakers, youth coordinators, and of course, SWRE’s management and board of directors for their continuous support of our youth programs.