Sanford B. Dooley, Chaney, John A.
POLLOCK – Young people from across Louisiana learned what it takes to operate a cooperative business during the Co-op Youth Conference this month at the LSU AgCenter’s Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center near Pollock.
As part of the April 8-10 conference, more than 80 participants had an opportunity to share ideas and invest money to form and operate a cooperative business named "Sweet on You Co-op." It was all part of an experience that was designed to help them learn by actually doing.
"These young leaders developed a business plan, recruited investors and ran a small business using the rules and principles of cooperatives," said LSU AgCenter economist Dr. Sandy Dooley, one of the organizers of the educational activity.
The three-day program provided an opportunity for high school students of varying backgrounds and interests to become more familiar with the American cooperative business system.
"Cooperating and working together helps communities, especially in the rural areas, prosper," said Dooley. "And business leaders from the state provided the leadership to show the young people at this camp how community needs can sometimes be solved by forming a cooperative."
The conference offered practical hands-on learning experiences in addition to leadership opportunities. It also was intended to foster an open exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of fun – through recreation, motivation and fellowship.
Business leaders from the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives explained the operation of the different types of cooperatives and their importance in providing services in the state.
Dean Martin of the First South Ag Credit Association and Leo Hyde from Louisiana Ag Credit conducted an informal session on banking cooperatives and explained the importance of maintaining a good credit rating.
For example, the experts stressed that to maintain a good credit rating, it is important to properly manage the balance on credit cards, debit cards and bank accounts – to know and keep track of the balance of the account on a daily basis. They also stressed the importance of paying bills on time, avoiding excessive use of credit cards and being careful not to fall victim to sales incentives or gimmicks.
Martin also advised the young people to read the small print before signing a contract, and he said students need to practice discipline in all areas of their lives – the friends they make, their study habits and the places they visit. Discipline will help students accomplish their financial and educational goals, Martin said.
"Remember, bad credit, bankruptcy and poor financial records remain on your credit report for seven years," said Hyde, adding, "A bad credit rating can affect your ability to buy a car or home."
In addition to educational sessions such as those, the camp participants were divided into eight groups to do case studies and present their recommendations to all entire conference participants. The case studies were different for each group and included topics about employee management, termination, safety, insurance and other business problems cooperatives face.
"These case studies encourage young people to discuss business problems, develop solutions and present the results to the group," said Dooley, adding, "Thus, they enhance the participants’ communication, decision-making and leadership skills."
This conference is unique because it includes three different youth educational groups in the state.
"This is the only camp I know of where youth and adult leaders are recruited from three educational organizations to work on business skills," said Lenny Waguespack, manager of South Louisiana Sugars Co-op Inc., explaining that participants come from 4-H Clubs, FFA chapters and FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) members.
One of the key components of the camp was the actual formation and operation of a cooperative business by the campers.
Delegates held an organizational meeting, collected a membership fee, elected a board of directors, hired a manager and then opened and ran the "Sweet On You Co-op" – which sold candy and chips to members.
On the last morning of the conference, the "Sweet on You Co-op" held a membership meeting to assess the performance of the co-op and to distribute patronage refunds to the members based on their use of the co-op.
"Cooperatives are important in developing and maintaining the economic stability in rural communities," said Dooley. "Now more young people are educated about the importance of cooperatives."
The co-op conference is sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
Sandy Dooley at (225) 578-2266 or email@example.com
Lenny Waguespack at (225) 265-4056 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Leo Hyde at (318) 263-2082 or email@example.com
John Chaney at (318) 473-6605 or firstname.lastname@example.org