How far is it from Nashville to Washington, D.C.? If you ask any of the delegates who have traveled the route from Tennessee to our nation’s capital as part of the Rural Electric Youth Tour, you’re likely to hear that it’s more than just 700 miles; it’s measured in lifelong friendships, unforgettable experiences and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity made possible by local electric cooperatives. In one unforgettable week in June, Youth Tour winners see Washington’s historic sites, meet Tennessee’s congressional delegation and have fun with well over 100 peers from across the state.
The 2015 installment of the Washington Youth Tour marked the 50th anniversary of Tennessee’s involvement in the annual event, which today is a joint initiative of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), statewide electric co-op trade associations like the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA) and local electric co-ops across the nation. Since TECA’s program began by sending a handful of students in 1965, thousands of Tennessee youth have earned spots on the weeklong tour of the capital city. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives sponsor a short story contest to reach local youth and show them that in addition to supplying the affordable, reliable electricity their communities need to survive and thrive, electric co-ops are committed to strengthening those communities through special programs and economic development initiatives. This year’s short story theme was “Electric Cooperatives: Powering Potential.”
“I learned how generous electric co-ops are,” said Carolina Hatfield of South Pittsburg, a delegate representing Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, in describing how she became more familiar with her hometown cooperative while developing her short story. “They truly care about their communities and work their hardest to enrich each person’s life — from helping us lower our electricity bills to educating the youth.”
In addition to writing a short story that earned her a spot on the tour, Hatfield participated in a public-speaking competition to be chosen as the state’s Youth Leadership Council (YLC) delegate, representing Tennessee at NRECA events like the national association’s annual meeting and a leadership conference.
“It seemed impossible to achieve, but I did it,” Hatfield says. “I was chosen as our YLC representative. I would have never had the work ethic or leadership skills to confidently pursue this challenge if it weren’t for the Youth Tour. Electric co-ops are changing lives and inspiring our youth to exceed expectations and be the best we can be.”
Another way cooperatives reach youth in this endeavor is through the statewide short story competition in which each co-op submits its top-judged story to compete for scholarships. Claiming top honors — and a $3,000 scholarship — was Katelin Bobbitt of Dyer, delegate from Gibson Electric Membership Corporation. Second place and a $2,000 scholarship went to Adam Mestach of Maryville, part of Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative’s group. And the third-place, $1,000 scholarship was awarded to Mountain Electric Cooperative delegate Desirae Clark of Roan Mountain.
Benefits don’t end when the Youth Tour is over and delegates return to their hometowns. These students have forged lifelong bonds and made lasting memories. Electric cooperatives know they’re investing in their communities’ future leaders, and that’s why they make the commitment each year to providing opportunities like the Washington Youth Tour to their extraordinary local young leaders.
“Because of the Youth Tour, I feel confident that I possess the qualities needed to be a leader in this country,” says Hatfield. “The Youth Tour has equipped me and thousands of other students with the confidence to work hard in order to follow our dreams.”
Planning is already underway to make the 2016 edition of the Washington Youth Tour another epic episode in the rich history of Tennessee’s unparalleled participation in the national program. So high school juniors, be on the lookout for information on the short story contest in your schools this fall and in future issues of The Tennessee Magazine. And write that story! Your best effort could earn you an unforgettable opportunity of a lifetime to enjoy a memorable trip and perhaps even win scholarship money to help you in your future college endeavors.
Learn more about this year’s Rural Electric Youth Tour in your Co-op News section of this magazine, or visit youthtour.coop.