About 115 Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota high school students learned about cooperatives and honed their leadership skills at Cooperative Network’s annual Co-ops Yes! Youth Leadership Conference in Eau Claire, Wis., March 7 and 8.

About 115 Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota high school students learned about cooperatives and honed their leadership skills at Cooperative Network’s annual Co-ops Yes! Youth Leadership Conference in Eau Claire, Wis., March 7 and 8. Thirty-three area cooperatives, FFA chapters, and other organizations fully sponsored the students and several state FFA officers to attend. The Co-ops Yes! Youth Leadership Conference teaches high school students about cooperatives and leadership through presentations, case studies, and networking with co-op professionals.

This year’s participants heard from co-op speakers including Margie Hylkema from Organic Valley, who shared the cooperative’s story and the meaning of democratic member control; William Nelson, recently retired from CHS Inc., who discussed the seventh cooperative principle, “concern for community”; and Natalie Locke from Aynah, who provided a very active introduction to cooperatives and had students conceive their own co-ops.

Motivational speaker Craig Hillier returned with his interactive and inspiring message, helping students identify their leadership styles and learn how to work as a team to achieve their goals. In breakout sessions, participants explored co-op careers, credit unions, effective communications, leadership through cooperation, and what it means to “pursue the American dream.” At the closing session, motivational speaker Vince Pellegri left students with some actionable ways to tap into their leadership potential.

Students also enjoyed a formal banquet followed by an entertaining hypnotist and dance. The program was sponsored by AgStar Fund for Rural America, CHS Foundation, Heartland Credit Union, and the Minnesota Cooperative Education Foundation.

Interested participants were able to run for the 2016–17 Co-ops Yes! youth board, which has the opportunity to attend additional sponsored learning events throughout the year, tour area cooperatives, and plan the following year’s conference. New board members elected by their peers included Isaac Nelson of Sleepy Eye, sponsored by Harvest Land Cooperative.