Young Leaders Shine at ACCA Youth Leadership Program 2018

Published on July 17, 2018 by Will McGlynn

What goes on at ACCA’s Summer Youth Leadership Program?

ACCA’s New Communications Officer, Will McGlynn, reports on a summer of fun and learning in Nordegg after spending a day on site during the first week of camp.


July 3 – Nordegg, Alberta

Organized by the Alberta Community & Co-operative Association (ACCA), the Youth Leadership Program is the largest co-operative youth program in Canada. Entering its final week on Tuesday, the program will have welcomed 230 Alberta youth across the months of June and July.

First held in 1959, the program is a unique Alberta youth experience open to rural and urban youth aged 11 to 18 and is a cornerstone of ACCA’s co-operative education mandate. With new innovative content each year, developed and delivered by volunteer camp leaders on everything from agriculture to public speaking; it helps introduce or change youth attitudes towards what makes a co-operative and the vital role they play in across the province and their communities.

The 2018 Youth Leadership Program Graduates

Hosted at the Goldeye Centre in beautiful Nordegg, Western Alberta, it is more than a summer camp and plays a pivotal role in building strong, confident young leaders who are the next generation of the co-operative and credit union workforce. To grasp the sense of community that builds throughout the week and to see the transformation in confidence that oozes from camp attendees by the end of the week cannot be done justice by words alone.

Even on a rainy first week (the sun has been out ever since), where our youngest and eldest campers are on site, the air is notably rife with optimism, enthusiasm and freedom. This positivity trickles down right from ACCA staff, to 43 fantastic volunteer staff and to the young people themselves. The outcomes are quite simply transformative. Hayley who graduated from this years Youth Program, explained that her involvement in the program has made a huge impact on her confidence:

“It was my counselor at school who suggested the co-operative youth leadership program to me. I wasn’t big on speaking, I was shy and didn’t dream of getting out of my comfort zone. Looking back on being involved these last 4 years, I’ve changed so much. I can now talk and not freeze and my parents have noted I’m more confident and aware of the world. it’s hard to explain how much camp is different from [building confidence] the classroom.”

It is not just about the here and now though – ACCA place a strong emphasis on continuing the development of young adults who have been through the program. Over with our youngest ‘Pre-Teen’ group of 11-12-year old’s, a group of young adult volunteers – who themselves have all been through the program – lead a session on self-esteem. Anna Zimmerman, who was involved in the first ever ‘Pre-Teen’ camp that ACCA hosted; led the session and reminisced about how back then “her parents shipped me off on a bus with 56 strangers I had never met”. Terrified at first, Anna relaxed and made 58 new friends, many that she is still in touch with. “My favourite part of my time in the program was that it became my safe place; it was a place I could have fun, be involved, participate and let my free flag fly”.

Wetaskiwin Cattle Farmer Curtis Pohl after participating with 3 graduates in a roundtable Q&A

Away from building the soft skills in the next generation of co-operative leaders; an understanding of the importance of co-operatives and inquisitiveness about rural Alberta is also instilled. Graduate attendee Jayden has just graduated from school and will be taking a gap year before heading into an environmental field. Expertly quizzing Wetaskiwin cattle farmer Curtis Pohl on everything from the challenges of the organic food trend, to NAFTA tariffs and attracting people to and back to agricultural Albertan communities; it was evident how the ACCA youth program shapes a co-operative mindset and opens young people’s minds up to solving challenges faced in the modern-day sector.

This is something that ACCA is incredibly proud of. As part of the so called ‘Generation Z’ (those born after 1996), campers are growing up in a vastly different world from which co-operatives were formed. Social media pressurizes societal expectations and political instability threatens the democratic rights and the basic concepts of community. The youth leadership program educates this generation on co-operative histories, democratic principles and how to build thriving, ownership-based co-operative businesses. This is best exemplified by posters with big red crosses through Tim Hortons coffee jugs and a call to arms to invest in community-based coffee co-operatives.

“It’s awe-inspiring working to put on our Youth Leadership Program” stated ACCA’s Youth Leadership Program Coordinator Liane Courchesne. “To see the changes in the guys and girls who come here each week, and to raise the awareness of co-operatives is so important to the sector and the youth themselves. It’s a full year round operation, and I could not do it without the many hours given by our dedicated volunteer staff and the support of all the sponsors who enable our campers to attend”.

At the end of each week, every camper leaves with the symbolic ‘Warm Fuzzie’, which recognises their development and their camp poster signed by friends and staff which is often kept for a lifetime. Equally symbolic are the heartfelt thank you letters campers send via mail to their sponsors. Ranging from UFA Co-operative Limited to EQUS REA LTD., a plethora of Alberta Agriculture Societies and countless more; camp volunteers work hard with young leaders to craft meaningful letters which demonstrate sponsors key community investment objectives.

It’s always difficult to predict the future, yet former camp attendees have gone on to attend medical school, work at the ACCA, return as camp volunteers or work in the co-operative sector – and next year it could be you. Whether attending for the first time or having been involved through any of the camps pre-teen, youth, teen or graduate programs; you can build your skills, confidence and become a champion for co-operatives and co-operative values when you return to your local community.

After only being in Nordegg for the day, I can tell you it is an experience that you will not want to miss.