Author Kurt Vonnegut once said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities.”
In June, Southern Indiana Power would like to send four students on the Indiana Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. In D.C., they will join more than 1,600 high school students from rural areas around the country. Like in previous years, it is expected that these young people will have the trip of their lives.
They will meet senators and congressmen; hear from co-op leaders; see the U.S. Capitol, Arlington National Cemetery and Smithsonian Institution museums; and meet hundreds of kids just like them. They will return home filled with great memories. Then what? Where will the young go? Will they leave the place they’ve called home? Or will they stay to help create stable communities?
Nearly 60 percent of rural counties shrank in population in 2013, and the trend is up from 40 percent in the 1990s. While some economists might see this as simply the “market” acting efficiently, we know communities like ours cannot survive if this trend continues.
According to a study on Rural Youth Migration, many young people living in rural areas have a negative view of their community when compared to major urban centers. There is a perception that rural areas offer limited economic and social opportunities. As we all know, your perception is your reality.
Cooperatives are a business model. But unlike investor-owned companies that focus almost exclusively on turning a profit, cooperatives serve both an economic and social purpose. So, if the cooperative is operating in concert with our cooperative principles and values, we can change the perception that rural areas offer limited opportunities. We can ensure that young people know and understand they have a critically important role to play in our community.
Southern Indiana Power was created with the purpose to improve the quality of life in rural areas by providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity. While that mission has been accomplished, it needs to be maintained and expanded.
Sending our youth to Washington, D.C., for a week is a wonderful first step, but we need to take the next step. Ensuring that everyone in our community is working together to find economic and social opportunities for them to stay in our community is our challenge. Together, we can help our rural communities survive.