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Washington Youth Tour Provides Students a Road to Self-Discovery

For many teens, the Rural Electric Youth Tour is full of “firsts.” It may be the first time they left the state, traveled on a chartered bus, visited the nation’s capital or have been away from their family for an extended period of time. Perhaps the most important “firsts” are seeing and experiencing the larger world through their own eyes, rather than through their parents’ perspectives.

2018 Washington Youth Tour Students
The Nolin RECC Washington Youth Tour students pose for a photo inside the Washington National Cathedral. From left are Lily Vowels, Janece Harrington, Garrett Bowman, Emma Ingalls and Summer Mohamed.

The five local teens featured on the cover of this month’s Kentucky Living magazine experienced a “first” in June of this year. These bright and ambitious students are your 2018 Nolin RECC Washington Youth Tour delegates and they competed with other local youth to earn a free trip to Washington, D.C., for the 54th Annual Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

In preparation for Youth Tour, teens learn about cooperatives, our history and grassroots advocacy. Youth Tour sprang from a suggestion of then-Senator Lyndon Johnson to a National gathering of co-ops. Johnson felt youth from rural areas would benefit by visiting Washington to see first-hand how government works and gain greater knowledge through personal experience. From this idea, Youth Tour evolved. High school juniors selected by their electric coops participate in a weeklong trip to the nation’s capital. Throughout the years, the program has grown tremendously – this year more than 1,800 high school juniors participated from co-ops in 44 states. Our state typically sends a delegation of 90-100 students.

The week includes visits monuments and sites, including Capitol Hill. Activities with Youth Tour delegations from across the country enable teens to meet a broad spectrum of co-op kids. Our program creates a safe space for teens to discover the adults they are striving to be. Teens leave behind their hometown identity and venture forward with a fresh slate. Students are encouraged to stretch themselves by talking to those they wouldn’t ordinarily interact with.

A highlight of Youth Tour includes a meeting with our congressional delegation. Teens learn firsthand that their elected officials work for their hometown community. Youth Tour ends with a farewell evening featuring national co-op partner organizations from the financial and insurance sectors and NRECA International, an organization bringing electricity to rural areas in developing countries. The evening centers on challenging and inspiring teens to make an impact in their communities.

Traditionally our local Youth Tour delegation returns home with a broader sense of what community means to them. And of course they always look back with fond memories of an educational, interesting and eventful week. Many make lifelong friends. For a few, Youth Tour is a transformational experience. Parents remark how their child returned noticeably different—more mature, more confident with bigger goals and aspirations; they have a sense of purpose. Youth Tour is one of the most important programs that Nolin RECC sponsors. We are always impressed by the caliber of students that our co-op sponsors. Our teens are our future, and it’s looking brighter every day. I hope you will consider urging your teen to participate in this remarkable program next year.

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