Each summer the Cooperative Council of North Carolina holds a Cooperative Leadership Camp for high school students. The students who attend are sponsored by a North Carolina cooperative. This year, Weaver Street Market sent its first student to Co-op Camp—Corey Pahel-Short, a rising high school senior at East Chapel Hill.
We selected Corey for the leadership qualities she is already cultivating as she balances commitments to her school’s cross country team, her academic studies, and her volunteer work with NatureWay and at UNC. When we asked her the question, “What leadership skills do you see as important for cooperatives?” she responded as follows:
Since cooperatives bring together a diverse group of people with different skills, a leader must be inclusive, flexible, and open to new ideas. This allows for the free sharing of ideas, which will create opportunities for the co-op to grow. Having a vision for the co-op and community is a fundamental quality of leadership. But having a vision is not enough; a leader must be able to articulate his/her ideas and follow through with them. This requires commitment.
We asked Corey to share some of the highlights from her week at co-op camp:
This summer I received the opportunity to attend Cooperative
Leadership Camp thanks to Weaver Street’s sponsorship. I did not know what to expect, but I figured I should learn more about how a co-op functions since Weaver Street has always been a part of my life. I grew up in Chapel Hill a few minutes from the Carrboro store, and my father served on the Board of Directors when I was in elementary school.
Students from all across the state attended. I was the only student from a food co-op. At the camp, we organized a t-shirt cooperative by electing positions such as president, the board of directors, and the general manager. We divided into different teams responsible for the various aspects of the co-op, such as finance, marketing, and distribution. I joined the community relations team, which was tasked with organizing a service project. Inspired by Weaver Street’s work with the charity TABLE, I suggested the idea of sending letters of encouragement to terminally ill children in hospitals. Personally, I was at a loss for what to say to children in situations much worse than me, so my letters were mostly drawings of superheroes and Disney characters. The event was a success, and we accumulated a significant stack of letters.
Upon arrival at the camp, we were split into four teams: Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red. Throughout the week we competed against each other in challenges that tested our ability to work with others and take on leadership roles. Many of the challenges required trust, a sense of humor, and a willingness to get wet! Blue Team was the best, of course, which I am definitely not biased about as a member.
My favorite of these activities was a tower building contest. The goal was to build the tallest tower starting from a tabletop. We could only use the materials in our envelope (markers, tape, paper clips, and paper); we could not move the ceiling tiles; and we had just 15 minutes to complete the tower.
While my group was debating how to build a sturdy tower, I realized that the rules said nothing about taping the tower of chains to the ceiling and having it hang down to the table. We discreetly began making paper chains that we would connect to the ceiling at the last minute. Unfortunately, we connected ours too soon, and other groups copied us with the remaining time. We ended up getting second in this activity due to our chains being less “sturdy” than the Red Team’s tower. I would like to point out, however, that the flexibility of our tower would better withstand an earthquake.
Despite some setbacks, Blue Team emerged as the overall winner of the week’s challenges! We were a group of outspoken individuals, but we formed a good team because we always supported one another.
I should mention that this camp took place in White Lake, NC, right along the water. The trees all featured Spanish moss, and the sunrise in the morning was absolutely gorgeous. Every day we were allotted free time to do as we pleased, which I mostly spent on the water with new friends. Although we were total strangers at the beginning of the week, we managed to build a community.
We are thrilled that Corey represented our co-op at the camp. Cooperative Council President Jennie Gentry shared with us that Corey was a “bright spot at camp” and described her as “one AMAZING young lady!” We are not surprised that she won the “Unsung Hero” Award—for her creative contributions, her positive attitude, and her commitment to the cooperative principles.