The road to self discovery - Youth Tour reflections

Mike Partin, President/CEO

For many teens, the Rural Electric Youth Tour is full of “firsts.” It may be the first time they left the state, flew on a plane, visited the nation’s capital or have been away from their family for an extended period of time. Even more are seeing and experiencing the larger world through their own eyes rather than through their parents’ perspective. That’s the most important first because it’s truly a “leap” to their next phase of life and where their journey to adulthood begins.

In preparation for Youth Tour, teens learn about cooperatives, our history and grassroots advocacy. Youth Tour sprang from a suggestion of then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson to a national gathering of co-ops. Johnson felt that youth from rural areas would benefit by visiting Washington to see first-hand how government works and gain a wider perspective through the experience. From this idea, Youth Tour evolved. High school juniors selected by their electric co-ops participate in a week long trip to the nation’s capital. The program has grown exponentially since its inception and this year, we will see more than 1,800 high school juniors participate from co-ops in 44 states. Our state typically sends a delegation of about 150 students. Seven of those will be from the Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative service area — one from each of our seven public high schools.

The week will be interspersed with visits to many D.C. 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 with whom they would not ordinarily interact.

A highlight of Youth Tour is a meeting with our congressional delegation. Teens learn first-hand that their elected officials work for their hometown communities. Students often have the opportunity
to discuss issues with legislators, and our chaperones are always impressed with the interactions and questions asked by our students. Youth Tour culminates in a farewell evening featuring national co-op partners 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. As conversations evolve, so, too, do the teens’ world view — their definition of community often changes from their hometown to a broader meaning.

I can say that nearly all teens who have participated in our Youth Tour program 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 children 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 SVEC undertakes. I am constantly impressed by the caliber of students our co-op sponsors. Our teens are our future, and it’s looking brighter every day.

Join us in congratulating the students Youth Tour this year, and if you have a rising junior, encourage him or her to participate in the 2019 Washington Youth Tour Writing Contest. The winners will get to take part in this experience of self discovery.