June 17, 2014 — Local youths have a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit our nation’s capital for the annual Electric Cooperative Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. The year’s tour will host 1,600 high school students nationwide. The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is a joint effort between local electric co-ops, their statewide co-op associations, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Arlington, VA. This year’s tour is special because the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is turning 50!
The Youth Tour was born from a speech at the 1957 NRECA Annual Meeting by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. He was a longtime advocate of electric co-ops, having lobbied for the creation of Pedernales Electric Cooperative in 1937 as a young politician in Texas. “If one thing comes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents,” the future president said.
With that encouragement, Texas electric co-ops began sending summer interns to work in the senator’s Washington, D.C., office. In 1958, an electric co-op in Iowa sponsored the first group of 34 young people on a weeklong study tour of the nation’s capital. Later that same year, another busload came to Washington from Illinois. The idea grew, and other states sent busloads of students throughout the summer. Then in 1964, the NRECA began to coordinate joint activities among the state delegations and suggested that co-op representatives from each state arrange to be in Washington, D.C., during Youth Tour week.
Flash forward 50 years and the Youth Tour is stronger than ever! Piedmont Electric’s youth tourist this year is Collin Winstead of Roxboro. In his application for the youth tour Collin wrote, “…this trip would provide me an opportunity to enhance the leadership skills I have learned through civic clubs, sports and Boy Scouts. This trip sounds like an excellent chance to learn more about specific areas of interest (in pursuing a career in national security) while broadening my knowledge and understanding of rural electric cooperatives.”
This year’s Youth Tour brings together some 1,600 teens from 43 states for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity culminating in Washington, D.C. Students dance on a boat cruise down the Potomac and see the roots of American history. They learn about electric co-ops and grassroots political advocacy.
While much has changed during the past 50 years since Youth Tour was born, the one constant has been the students, who never fail to be amazed, inspired, humbled and grateful, according to the faithful electric co-op employees who bring new groups back to Washington every year. “We’re excited to see what our future leaders accomplish,” said Jane Forehand of the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives. “And knowing that we played a small part of that is truly something special.”
To find out more about the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, visit www.nreca.coop/what-we-do/youthprograms or http://pemc.coop/community/scholarships/youth-tour/.