Cooperative Visit - Delegates Stop at FreeState

As the bucket slowly rises into the gray sky youth tour delegates are giddy. You can hear it in their reaction and see it on their faces. The weather wasn’t cooperating early, but a break in the rain gave way to one of the most popular parts of the annual youth tour visit to FreeState Electric Cooperative.

Kyle Hammer (left) takes a Hawaii delegate up in the bucket. 

The past several years for youth tour delegates have included a stop at the Topeka based cooperative office for a hot breakfast, a safety demonstration, and bucket truck rides.

“I thought I would be more scared, but I really wasn’t,” a delegate is overheard saying as she removes the safety equipment.

FreeState linemen who help with this activity get a kick out of it, too. “The look on some of their faces is pretty priceless,” said Kyle Hallgren, who has helped with the activity for a couple of years. “Some of them are nervous, some are ready, and some are just not sure what to think.”

What Kansas Electric Cooperatives (KEC) wants these kids to gain is perspective. KEC handles organizing the annual trip to the D.C. and has included the trip to FreeState so youth can see a cooperative on what a normal business day would be.

“We want them to be exposed to what cooperatives offer,” said Shana Read, who leads the trip each year. “With FreeState being right here in Topeka, it gives us a unique opportunity to bring these kids in, show them around, and given them an up-close look at a cooperative.”

That up-close look has evolved over the years. What started as a hot breakfast and a thrilling bucket ride has morphed into adding an education component regarding electric safety, and an element of career development. It’s something Read says has been an excellent addition to the cooperative visit.

“Having FreeState allow these kids access to their employees, and the jobs they do, is really an experience that they can take home with them,” Read said.

While at FreeState the students are divided into smaller groups and given access to the staff who make up FreeState. Students are given a list of interest areas and for those students interested in certain areas it’s an opportunity to have an informal conversation with a professional. They have an opportunity to visit with engineering, operations, safety, information technology, human resources and board support, member relations, finance, and communications.

FEC delegates talk with Engineering Manager, Matt Magill (center), and intern Timber Hinson (right).

“I think one of the most interesting things I see is how many of the delegates come to hear me talk about communications,” said Sarah Farlee, public relations and marketing specialist. “I’ve noticed how broad it really is and how different some of their interests are.”

Farlee added that video production was a popular topic of discussion, as was journalism.

“Last year, I had a few kids who like to write, or were interested in graphic design, but this was the first year I had kids asking me about video series production, and podcasting,” Farlee said. “That’s exciting to me, because that’s a trend starting to emerge regarding how cooperatives are starting to communicate with members.”

The activity is also designed to expose delegates to different career opportunities that cooperatives provide to small towns across the state, and that you don’t only have to be a lineman to work for the local co-op.

“Our conversations with these kids are about our typical day, and what our path was to get to the job we have,” Farlee said. “But we also want to make sure that they know the opportunities are there, and as important as our line workers are, it’s not the only job that makes the cooperative work.”

Steve Foss, CEO, is happy to support this activity. He says the opportunity to highlight all the people it takes to power communities is important.

“Some kids show up and are already set on what they want to do,” said Foss. “Some are still thinking and exploring and I hope that a visit to FreeState may sway one or two into considering a career in electric distribution in the field, or the office.”