Eight Sleepy Eye FFA members attended the Co-ops Yes! Leadership Conference in Eau Claire, Wis.

Nearly 50 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 4 and 5. Area cooperatives, FFA chapters, and other organizations fully-sponsored the students and several state FFA officers to attend.

Sleepy Eye FFA members in attendance included: Kalli Christensen and Jeongbin Park, sponsored by Brown County REA; Maranda Braulick, Sandy Flores, Mrs. Hoffmann, and Ms. Oeltjenbruns, sponsored by SouthPoint Financial Credit Union; Mike Ludewig, Leah Schnobrich, McKenna Dockter, and Edwin Flores, sponsored by Farmward Cooperative.

The Co-ops Yes! Youth Leadership Conference teaches high school students about cooperatives and leadership through presentations, interactive exercises, and networking with co-op professionals.

This year’s participants heard from co-op speakers including Kirsten Slaughter from Wisconsin Farmers Union, who kicked off the conference with a Co-ops 101 session; Rebecca Binsfeld, of Compeer Financial, who discussed the seventh cooperative principle, “concern for community” and led a panel discussion with young cooperators about their own communities; and Rhea Hogden with Co-op Credit Union, who helped students think about the importance of financial literacy.

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 the diversity of cooperatives and leadership through cooperation.

At the closing session, Christine Lindner, with Alsum Farms & Produce and Dana Rady, representing the United Potato Growers Cooperative of Wisconsin, left students with some actionable ways to explore co-op careers, from fork to plate.

Students also enjoyed a formal banquet followed by an entertaining hypnotist. The program was sponsored by Compeer Financial, Organic Valley, Heartland Credit Union and Middleton Farmers Cooperative.

Interested participants were able to run for the 2019–20 Co-ops Yes! youth board. New board members were elected by their peers and included Kalli Christensen, Sleepy Eye FFA Member.