The newest board members at one Indiana co-op don't pay electric bills and, in fact, some are too young to drive legally.

Meet the eight junior board members of Carroll White REMC in Monticello. They are juniors and seniors from two high schools on co-op lines, all high-achievers who want to learn more about their communities.

The teenagers meet once a month on their own or with local nonprofits on community service projects. And in December, they attended a full board meeting, not as spectators but as participants. Each student paired up with a co-op board member.

"It's a shining example of a way to gain leadership experience in the outside community and not just in school. It's really an awesome way to bridge the two," said junior board chair Andrew Schoen, a senior at Delphi Community High School in Delphi, Indiana, who's headed to Purdue University this fall.

The co-op benefits, too. Some gains are immediate—a high schooler will help the co-op set up an Instagram account—and others will come later.

"Any of those kids could end up living on our lines," said Alicia Hanawalt, the co-op's director of human resources. She and Casey Crabb, the co-op's communications and public relations manager, work with the junior board members.

"We began the junior board to help grow the community, getting people to come back to the rural community," said Hanawalt. "Once they graduate and go to college or whatever they want to do in life, they could end up living here and become Operation Roundup trustees or future board members."

First, though, the co-op had to generate interest in the project, which wasn't easy given that people under the age of 45 are unfamiliar with co-ops, NRECA's lexicon project found. Next, Carroll White REMC and the two schools, each in a different district, had to work around conflicting schedules and rules that students couldn't leave the grounds during school hours.

Recruitment can be a challenge. "We honestly didn't get too many applications at first," said Hanawalt, even after advertising on social media and asking guidance counselors for help.

Personal connections played a big part. A former Youth Tour participant, Schoen was instrumental in reaching out to peers, said Crabb, who's also a basketball coach at one of the schools. "The combination of knowing some of the kids to start with really kind of helped propel this," said Crabb.

A lot is packed into the students' two years on the board. They learn about co-ops, their governance structure and their role in the community. They also learn how to run meetings and be effective board members. Community service is a big focus.

"They choose the projects and the co-op will pay [students], " Crabb said. "They will put that money into a fund and at our annual meeting in June, which will wrap up their year, they will present that money to a not-for-profit, that they research, in our service territory."

The young board members will also help Carroll White promote its youth programs, including Youth Tour, the junior board project and a Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives camp.

"When you talk about understanding not-for-profits, the seven cooperative principles and how big our service territory is…it's a lot to throw at them," said Crabb.

"They've been very good about asking questions and they come eager to learn. They enjoy each other. It's gone very well."

Board President Kevin Bender and his six colleagues value their new roles as mentors. "Allowing them to learn and witness the inner workings of our co-op fosters an appreciation and respect for our presence and service to our communities," said Bender. "Carroll White REMC is committed to the fact that one of our finest local assets is our young people."

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