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Chariton Valley Telephone: reaching tomorrow's customers today.

Many telephone cooperatives formed in the 1950s are undergoing a demographic change in membership. Founding members are being replaced by a generation that has not experienced life without a phone. And, that generation will be replaced by one that has never been without a cell phone or a computer. Concerned that the next generation of members will not exhibit the same loyalty to the cooperative as the founding members, Chariton Valley Telephone Corp. (Macon, Mo.) has embarked on a program to win them over at an early age.

"Having experienced life without a telephone, the original members were both appreciative and supportive of the service they received," said Jim Simon, general manager of Chariton Valley. "They are being replaced by members who take their phone service for granted. We want to do whatever is necessary to retain them as cooperative members."

The cooperative's service area, which is located in the rolling farmland of central Missouri, includes nearly 20 schools. Chariton Valley representatives visit each school at least once per year, and give presentations to elementary, middle and high school students. The presentations aren't geared toward product endorsement; rather, they focus on the well being of the student.

Connecting with Kids. In the elementary schools, all third grade students receive instruction on using the 911 system. Each student is permitted to dial 911 using a portable system designed by a Chariton Valley technician. The call is answered in the classroom by an actual 911 operator who participates in the presentations. The operator poses the same type of questions to students that would be asked in a real emergency and critiques their responses.

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Instructors emphasize to students that 911 should be used only in an emergency situation and never as a prank or for practice. After convincing students in one class that it would be improper to call 911 to report a cat in a tree, one student asked, "What if the tree is on fire?!"

At the conclusion of the program, each student receives several items emblazoned with Chariton Valley's logo, including a 911 wristband, pencil and a 911 coloring book.

Internet Safety. The Internet is where today's young people hang out. It's also where predators lurk. The popularity of chat rooms and other social networking sites have made them a favorite of cyber-predators and bullies. To offset the hazards inherent in using the Internet, Chariton Valley designed a safety awareness program that is geared toward middle school students. The program features materials obtained from netsmartz.org, an organization affiliated with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Students are taught the importance of protecting their personal information and made aware of how predators use online information to locate victims.

"Our students need to be aware of these safety issues and how they can protect themselves while online. This is why we have been in the schools sharing this information," said Martina Wyatt, one of Chariton Valley's Internet safety educators.

This past school year, nearly 1,250 students participated in either the 911 training or the Internet safety program. Each left with a better understanding of how to maintain personal safety. To help them better remember the day, each student also received a backpack emblazoned with the Chariton Valley logo.

Essays and Scholarships. For high school students, the cooperative offers several programs that demonstrate interest in their future. Like many telcos, Chariton Valley participates in the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS) youth tour. To select the winner, the cooperative sponsors an essay contest, which is announced with considerable fanfare in the cooperative's quarterly magazine for co-op members, as well as on the cooperative's Web site. Brochures explaining the contest also are distributed to local school counselors.

The winner is announced in a surprise visit to the classroom that is reminiscent of the "prize patrol" seen in television commercials. The award is formally presented during a board of directors' meeting, and press releases are distributed to area newspapers and radio stations. In addition, the winner's photograph and a follow-up story are printed in Chariton Valley's magazine.

In the spring, Chariton Valley presents five $500 scholarships to area high school seniors and also sponsors a $2,500 regional FRS scholarship. The scholarships are promoted in a manner similar to the essay contest, and the prize patrol surprises the winners in the classroom. The surprise visit is followed up with a formal presentation during the school's awards ceremony. By sponsoring these programs, Chariton Valley demonstrates its interest in present and future telco members.

By James Walker, Chariton Valley Telephone Director of Corporate Relations
COPYRIGHT 2007 National Telephone Cooperative Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Walker, James
Publication:The Exchange
Date:Aug 1, 2007
Words:762
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