Leanna Thesken Brings Abundance of Growth and Love for Cooperatives to Powerful

Planting the Seed

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) planted the seed of knowledge in me that will continue to grow forever.

Participating in Youth Tour in 2017 was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Almost 5,000 miles away from home, I was immersed into the hustle and bustle of our Nation’s capital. Alongside 39 other students, we learned about our government and history, connecting it back to our small local roots. This trip pushed me out of my comfort zone, helping me to realize my potential as a leader within my community.

Kauai Island Utility Board Members with Youth Tour alumni

As we toured the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association headquarters and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, I remember thinking to myself “I can make a career out of this.” Little did I know, I would do exactly so.

The seeds of Youth Tour have blossomed into an abundance of life-giving opportunities.

A Strong Foundation

I had the honor and privilege to represent Hawai’i on the NRECA’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC). Alongside fellow delegates, I learned more about the cooperative business model and energy industry.

During the YLC conference, a group full of strangers soon turned into family. Everyone poured their love, kindness, energy, hope, and life into me. I am not who I am without those who I have come to know. I am all who I have met, influenced, and made differently because of my YLC family. They have influenced and changed my life for the better.

2017 / 2018 Youth Leadership Council Delegates

I made lifelong friendships with those who have opened my eyes to the world by sharing their stories, beliefs, and experiences with me. Though only united for a short amount of time, these relationships are sure to last a lifetime. My Youth Tour and YLC family have made their mark on me, and I am confident that I am a better leader because of this experience.

Uplifting Cooperative Principles

Attending college in the big city of San Diego has taught me the value of my rural hometown of Kaua’i. Many Kaua’i youth flock to big cities under the impression that rural towns don’t have a lot of opportunities. However, Youth Tour has shown me just how much small towns have to offer. After my first year of college, I had the honor to intern at Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative as the communication department’s assistant. Through my internship, I got to work alongside Beth Tokioka and Shelley Paik, true Kaua’i leaders. Witnessing their persistence and commitment to high-quality communication is one of the greatest lessons ever learned. I am a testament to the valuable opportunities presented to youth in rural towns.

I exemplified the cooperative business model through my internship position. I produced several communications and marketing pieces used to communicate with the Kaua’i community. My efforts kept members informed and up to date on the latest developments. I learned the importance of communication and the benefits of boosting cooperative understanding.

The cooperative principle of “concern for community” was especially embodied in my work. As Kaua’i’s only utility provider, the pressures of the job are high.  During my internship, the Island experienced an island-wide blackout– an extremely rare occurrence. The power-outage shocked the entire island and put KIUC under the spotlight. Tensions were high in the office as the communications department worked relentlessly to provide Kaua’i citizens with information.

Leanna Thesken shadowing a Kansas Electric Cooperatives Lineman

It was in these trying times, that I truly saw KIUC’s commitment and concern for their community. This historical island-wide outage proved how connected Kaua’i’s community is. It was rewarding to hear everyone’s gratefulness for the entire KIUC staff. I am incredibly honored to have worked alongside these businesspeople to serve our community. It was a great feeling knowing that we did our best to keep our island under control and comforted during difficult times.

Through my internship, I also got to give back to the program that gave so much to me. As a new group of high school students set off to Youth Tour, I got to assist them in their preparations. It was an incredible experience to see all the behind the scenes work that oftentimes goes unnoticed. To see the excitement on the delegates’ faces was priceless. I saw myself in them and couldn’t help but pour my energy into helping them succeed.

Nourishing Roots

In the summer of 2021, I grew my roots further in the community-owned utility sector. Through Pioneer Utility Resource’s internship program, I developed skills in magazine publishing and social media marketing.

The internship was of great value– honing my storytelling skills and professional development. I interacted with company leaders and learned how they grew to be where they are. I was also paired with a mentor who guided and uplifted me through the whole program.

I am continually learning about the power of the cooperative model and its dedication to serving its community. One of Pioneer’s biggest goals of the internship program was to champion diversity. I did just so in an article featuring Native American culture. In writing this feature story, I had the chance to speak with an array of extraordinary individuals—some who I wouldn’t normally meet. It was amazing to hear their stories and experiences. It was even greater to be able to tell their stories through my very own writing. The entire team at Pioneer helped me grow in writing, interviewing, researching, and more. Their support continues to carry on with me throughout my career endeavors.


I truly bloomed where my seeds were once planted. From Youth Tour to KIUC to Pioneer Utility Resources to a full-time job in the industry; I am thrilled to continue serving rural communities through my role as a website design project manager on the Powerful web team. I find great meaning in my work because of my upbringing in a rural community. I am grateful to have the platform to support rural communities because I know and understand their unique needs.

Growing into the Future

The seeds from Youth Tour have blossomed into a garden full of opportunities. My adventures within the Cooperative world have only just begun. Youth Tour will always be a part of me; shaping who I am now, and who I will be. The NRECA has put their faith in me as part of the upcoming generation, and because of that, I am forever grateful.