Imagine 1,800 energetic high school students descending on the nation’s capital for a week of sightseeing, immersion in history and making of lifelong friendships—all while having fun and learning about the cooperative business model.
This is the objective of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Washington Youth Tour, but it does not capture the magic of exposing teenagers from rural areas to a world they have only read about in textbooks and challenging them to stretch outside their comfort zones.
To understand the true heart of Youth Tour requires being a part of the program—and two Ruralite editors did that last week.
Mike Teegarden spent the week embedded with the Arizona/California delegation of 43 students. Pam Blair journeyed to Washington, D.C., with the 18 Oregon students and two chaperones, then met up with the 31 students representing Florida cooperatives. She ended the week shadowing the Oregon group on legislative visits with Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden.
Combined, Mike and Pam took more than 4,000 photos and gathered dozens of comments from students about their experiences. The information-gathering continues, all in preparation for four-page feature articles planned for the September editions of Ruralite, Currents and Florida Currents magazines.
This was Pam’s second time attending Youth Tour.
“I am amazed at how much is packed into a few really long days,” Pam says. “I also am impressed with the quality of students selected for the trip. They already are leaders among their peers, and truly are the next generation of leaders for our cooperatives and our communities. They really appreciate the investment their cooperatives make in them through the Youth Tour trip.”
Mike, a first-time Youth Tour attendee, was impressed by the maturity of the students, and recalls a moment that stuck with him.
“What surprised me most was seeing how excited the kids were after meeting with their congressional representatives,” Mike says. “I can’t imagine being that excited about meeting a politician when I was their age. Several of them had wonderful experiences and left feeling like they really do have a voice in how things are run.”
What is your lasting impression from NRECA’s Washington Youth Tour?
This article was co-written by Victoria Hampton and Pam Blair.