Learning to Build Communitites

Youth Tour teaches value of relationships to area students

Delegates, including Logan Boothe of Houston Academy learned about the duties of being a lineman from Troy Wise, WEC Apprentice Lineman and other WEC staff.

Area government and business leaders shared their thoughts on the key to personal and community successes with this year’s Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s Youth Tour delegates — build great relationships.

“Develop relationships — it’ll carry you a long way,” says state Rep. Jeff Sorrells. “Get involved.”

“We’re here to inspire hope, and to me hope stands for helping others prosper everyday,” adds Nate Patterson, founder of youth development program Time Youth Impact Center.

Demonstrations and presentations on government, leadership development and WEC’s operations and community contributions all reinforced the central lesson during the delegates’ visit to WEC headquarters in April.

“It was eye-opening to learn about electric cooperatives and how our area legislators are coming together to get things done,” says delegate Lauren Dodson, of Cottonwood High School.

Learning About Lawmaking

Students spent the day at Wiregrass Electric Cooperative learning valuable life lessons and more.

For the second consecutive year, state Sen. Donnie Chesteen and state Reps. Paul Lee and Sorrells provided insight into how bills become laws in Alabama, a process that takes teamwork and communication. They also shared how they ensure the Wiregrass’ best interests are represented in Montgomery.

“There’s a lot of money in the state budgets,” Chesteen says. “What we have found out is that when you have projects or needs in your district, if you don’t fight for the money, somebody else is going to get it. We have learned how to fight for our district and get our fair share and then some.”

“The people in Montgomery look at our delegation — including Rep. Steve Clouse, Rep. Dexter Grimsley and Rep. Rhett Marques — and know we work together,” Lee adds. “We understand if something helps his district or his district, it’s going to help our region. We’re all going to benefit.”

Lee cited some recent major victories for the Wiregrass as examples. In this year’s state general budget, $12 million was earmarked to build a state forensics laboratory and a state mental health crisis center in Dothan — major needs following the shuttering of such facilities more than a decade ago.

Chesteen, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Policy committee, also shared how teamwork created an $8.2 billion education budget that included significant raises for many teachers.

“School is a really important subject to me and most people my age,” says delegate Landon Andress, of Rehobeth High School. “It was great to learn that we have so many important voices in the legislature, and we see the benefits. I know at Rehobeth, we have Chromebooks for every student. We have new smartboards in classrooms. It’s because of their hard work.”

Shaping the Community Cooperatively

When statewide and national Youth Tours were canceled because of COVID, WEC created its own program for young students to learn the value of teamwork and the cooperative model.

The legislators also discussed how community organizations like WEC help build the region through partnerships.

Chesteen, who has advocated for rural broadband access, highlighted WEC’s agreement with Troy Cable, which is owned by C Spire. The Broadband for the Wiregrass program has connected more than 3,600 homes and businesses since 2018. In addition, by the end of this year, more than 10,000 members will have access to a true high-speed broadband internet connection.

“By the end of 2023, 70% of WEC members will have a high-speed connection,” says WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro. This accounts for some members, primarily in the Dothan area, who had broadband access prior to the Broadband for the Wiregrass program

Sorrells identified another project WEC helped spearhead — the construction of a midsize industrial facility in the Geneva County Industrial Park. A manufacturer recently signed a lease on the facility, which was created through funds from WEC, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and the Geneva County Commission.

“Wiregrass Electric Cooperative has been instrumental in the development of many great projects in this area, including this speculative manufacturing facility that’s going to bring 80 jobs to Hartford,” Sorrells says.

Kimbro also shared how WEC gives back to the community monetarily through its Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation. Through small change collected each month from 87% of WEC’s membership, the cooperative disburses more than $120,000 yearly in grants and scholarships.

WEC’s commitment to community impressed the delegates. “It shows WEC doesn’t exist for the money. It shows it cares about making the community better,” says delegate Bo Miller, of Geneva County High School.

Delivering Great Services

Delegates then toured WEC’s facilities, beginning with the cooperative’s command center. Through technological advancements, WEC can monitor its entire grid from one room and switch circuits to reroute power in case large outages occur. This rerouting reduces the number of meter outages until repairs can be made and power restored to all members.

Delegates also watched several linemen conduct an Education Power Station demonstration, which shows how linemen make various repairs to lines, poles and transformers. In some cases, these tasks require a great amount of coordination, communication and teamwork.

Delegates also wore some of the equipment linemen do to perform their duties.

The complexities of delivering power to more than 26,000 meters impressed Miller. “I never knew WEC did that much work to deliver power,” he says.

Overcoming Challenges

Patterson used his life experience to highlight how relationships and initiative can lead to great things.

Growing up in a single-parent home with a father in jail, Patterson faced the temptation to join gangs. Basketball provided him an outlet, allowing him to be the first in his family to go to college — first at Enterprise State Community College, then at Columbus State University in Georgia.

He built a career in business, then worked in marketing for the Atlanta Hawks before returning to Dothan. He and his wife, Keni, own a clothing store locally, but spend most of their time teaching and mentoring dozens through Time Youth programs.

“In the 11th and 12th grades, I dealt with a lot of peer pressure to try alcohol and drugs. You’ve got to find some self-drive, focus on what you’ve got going for you, to overcome,” he says. “I had to motivate myself through leadership skills.”

Leaders always find ways to build relationships with those around them, Patterson says.

“Leaders create and inspire people to greater things,” he says. “They know when to delegate to others, too.”