The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual PowerXchange conference, held this year March 4-6 in San Antonio, Texas, is the largest annual gathering of electric co-op leaders. While the conference is designed to discuss and embrace the challenges of the ever-changing electric industry, it also highlights future leaders. One of those leaders present this year was Paris Van Dyke.

In June 2023, Van Dyke was one of 53 high school students who represented Illinois’ electric and telephone cooperatives during the annual Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. During the trip, Van Dyke, who represented Wabash Communications Co-op, was selected by her peers as the 2023-24 Youth Leadership Council (YLC) representative for the Illinois delegation. The YLC is a yearlong appointment.

She described her time as Illinois’ YLC representative as nothing short of extraordinary. “I totally enjoyed going on Youth Tour and [to]my state capitol, meeting legislators and so many people from across the world,” Van Dyke said. “It’s insane to think of the number of connections I have made that I hope will help me in my future. It’s just been awesome to get to see everyone and everything that our world has to offer, and it’s opened my eyes to the co-op world.”

While she has visited Texas before, this was her first time in San Antonio. She enjoyed seeing the iconic San Antonio Riverwalk and experiencing the culture of southern Texas, but she valued most the time spent getting to know other YLC representatives from across the nation.

“I’ve gotten to know them all personally, and it’s just been great,” Van Dyke said. “We have just had so much fun together, getting to meet people from different backgrounds. It’s such a great opportunity for all of us to grow. We all talked about that and the different paths we have planned for life. It’s cool to see all the different routes everyone wants to take.”

In just a few short months, Van Dyke’s service as Illinois’ 47th YLC will come to an end, when a new YLC is selected during this year’s Youth Tour in June.

“I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to Wabash Communications and the rest of Illinois’ cooperatives,” she said. “It has been incredible getting their support and seeing what they do in my community and throughout the state of Illinois. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have reliable and affordable energy and power. It’s so important to see, even in my small community, how that affects everyone’s lives.”

To her high school peers, she advised, “Take every opportunity that comes your way, because you never know what it will lead to.”