Tuesday, July 7

Washington Youth Tour: Online

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Shannon Dennard, a delegate representing Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, kept an online journal during his time on the Washington Youth Tour, which brings students from electric cooperatives across America to our nation’s capital. We’re excerpting his thoughts here as they capture the spirit of the inspirational program.


Friday, June 10

11:10 am
Currently at U.T. It appears we will be dinning with a horse right next to us and I love it. Nothing makes my mouth water more than pizza and the smell of horse.
Next Glade candle smell
-horses mane and veggie pizza
Write the essay guys.

6:19 pm
Just got done eating at K&W cafeteria and whoa. That place is so good! Now we’re on the bus. People have become more confident.. Maybe too confident.. But it’s all in good fun. We’ve played a lot of bus games.. A lot. Just a couple more hours until I get to stuff myself in a suit and deliver a speech that could open doors beyond my imagination. No pressure. Write the essay guys.

8:07 pm
In the lobby of a Best Western waiting to be called to give my speech. I’m surrounded by some of the most professional looking teenagers I’ve ever seen. My nerves are on edge.
Tip: Make yourself look confident and it’ll freak out the other kids. It works. They’re doing it to me right now. Write the essay guys.

9:13 pm
I pulled the number 14. That means the least possible amount of time I’ll have to wait is 39 minutes (3minute speech minimum x 13 people ahead of me). Best case scenario. Waiting only adds to the stress.
Tip: do NOT start your speech with “good evening” or anything relatively generic. I’ve seen everyone’s speech and that is exactly how they’ve all started it. (the only thing boosting my confidence is the fact that I didn’t start mine that way)
Write the essay guys.


Saturday, June 11

6:12 am
Had to wake up at 5 this morning, but all in all I’m pretty energized. My leader, Amy Kirkland, called me to wake me up (isn’t she a doll). Without her I would’ve overslept because I set my alarm for 7 instead of 5… “Good” start to a soon to be great day! I was first in line for breakfast! I was also the first to spill my drink.. I’m gonna use the excuse of if you’re the first one to screw up, you’re bound to have the best time the rest of the week. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Write the essay guys.

7:04 am
Bus 4 has broke down and now those passengers are loading the remaining 3 buses. SQUEEEEEEEZE.
Tip: The bus is COLD bring a blanket.
Write the essay guys.

11:47 am
So each bus has to do a karaoke version of a song and make up new words. So. Naturally I decided to make up something, but never intended to present it. Well, a fellow winner from my co-op, Skyler Little, volunteered me (without my consent) to go up and sing it (that “Little” rascal). I think I showed a couple of the judges how I can take charge and LEAD though. Maybe that’ll give me an edge for the YLC competition? I guess we’ll see..
Tip: if you have Kristie on your bus you’re in for a real treat 🙂
Write the essay guys.

Day 3

Sunday, June 12

8:34 am
I completely forgot to write in this journal last night. Probably because of how overloaded my heart was. You guys need to realize. Being here in person is like living a dream you’ve had over and over. We visited all of the monuments last night and man was I engaged. The only thing slowing my heart rate enough from exploding out of my chest was this man who thought it’d be a good idea to shout in front of the White House some very insane things. Momma Amy protected us of course. We had a tour guide that made the trip so much better, she could tell you each and every little scandal that’s happened in D.C. After all of that madness I volunteered to help with the devotional. I’m singing. Some of these kids should try out for The Voice, I mean they’re amazing. Today is the day I find out if I’ve won or lost the YLC position.. My nerves are so on edge I’m afraid they’ll fall off. Write the essay guys.

9:28 am
The YLC winner was announced and it wasn’t me. It stings, I’m gonna be honest but if I’ve learned anything it’s that winning isn’t everything. Cliché I know but seriously guys. I am so out of my shell this trip it’s amazing! I guess it just wasn’t meant to be and that’s fine. I still have 4 days left in Washington DC! ANNNDDD I could have placed in the essay contest so I am still happier and more grateful than ever! That’s the one thing Washington has already taught me. The true test to a leader is how they react when they lose. Write the essay guys.

2:56 pm
Just got done roaming 3 of the Smithsonian Museums and man I’m so exhausted. Me and my group sat on the ground for the last 20 minutes because we just couldn’t walk anymore. Other than that. I was awestruck at everything I saw. Absolutely outstanding. We are leaving to eat DINNER! Yes dinner at 3 o’clock.. It’s hard to fit a trip that’ll change your life with the constraints of our hunger all in 7 days.
Tip: take some 5 hour energy or coffee or something in the morning..

Day 4

Monday, June 13

6:21 am
Yesterday we walked through Arlington Cemetery and I was incredibly humbled. Seeing all of those tomb stones and realizing that each one represents an actual human being that had actual feelings and actual lives is an insane experience. After being there for a while, we left and came back to the hotel for a “YOUth” program and then a game night.
Tip: don’t be afraid to make a complete fool of yourself when you play Headbands.. It’s more fun that way 🙂
Todd just told us we’re going to have the hardest day today… My feet already hurt. But write the essay guys.

10:13 am
Just got out of a program where a man with all of the heart and character I can only dream of having spoke to us kids. I don’t think it’s realized the extent of how these amazing leaders care about us kids and I am so grateful to be in their care. I think I might want to have Amy’s job.. What a role model she is to me.
Tip: don’t you guys ever consider that the programs that you’ll attend will be the most boring parts. The sites in Washington give you memories, but these leaders give you character, and character last a life time. Please guys. Write the essay.

10:43 am
Being in a place so different from my small town is sometimes saddening.. We just passed a group of homeless people. Guys, be grateful that you even have a home to write your essays in. Ponder that while you WRITE THE ESSAY GUYS!

12:38 pm
There was a mass shooting in Orlando… The flags were at half mass here in DC.

Day 5

Tuesday, June 14

7:17 am
All of the excitement made me forget about writing in this journal more yesterday. Um let’s see. We ate at the pentagon mall for the last time… 🙁 then we went to the Cathedral. Guys listen! You will NEVER find a place so indescribable in your lives! This church is so big in fact that if you laid the Washington monument on its side, it wouldn’t even reach across the entire first room! After that we ate and went on a boat tour.

It was about a 3 hour tour and l didn’t even leave the dance floor.. Not once! I was hot and sweaty by the end but it was SO worth it! So far, my favorite thing we’ve done. Amy even danced guys. I didn’t get to see it, but I imagine it’s a mix of something like Beyoncé and maybe like a dying spastic bird of some sort? Kidding Amy, I love you. Right now I’m in the parking lot of Mount Vernon, Washington’s house. I’m starving so I hope they have food that doesn’t require wooden teeth to enjoy. Write the essay guys.

1:30 pm
The Hard Rock Cafe was so hype! People were dancing and the music was so fun. Madame Tussaud’s is insanely creepy guys.. Especially when a whole bunch of the wax figures are standing together. You feel like one could say “hi” and scare the… Scare you really badly 🙂
Tip: be gentle.. I’m so clumsy I almost knocked over 2 or 3 of them.
Write the essay guys.

7:16 pm
At the Sun Set Parade and WHOA! These guys and gals send chills down your spine; they’re amazing! Makes me wanna learn the tuba.. But then I remember I near pass out blowing up a balloon so maybe not.
Tip: bring a blanket to lay on when you’re here. We sit on the ground which isn’t bad, but we’re here for a few hours and it’s more comfortable.
Write the essay guys.

10:27 pm
My experience tonight was like no other… We had a meeting announcing the state winners of the essay contest. Do you know what makes the group of kids who won this trip so special? That even in the face of a loss. That they can still smile for the winner and mean it. They are life changers. Well it was the last youth tour Mrs. Cathy Mitchell, a leader on my bus, would ever go on because she is retiring. When I tell you guys that she touched each and every student on this trip, I mean she REALLY DID. She hands down has one of the most beautiful personalities on this Earth. She cried when our bus dedicated our song to her.. Very emotional moment. Then I was appointed to get up and speak as a representative for our bus and tell what this trip meant to me. I read some of the exerts from this journal actually. The encouragement I got from all of these great kids makes me want to call each and everyone everyday and ask them how their day was because that’s how good they made me feel. In receiving the news of the winner of the bus song, a beautiful girl, on the inside and out, passed out.. Guys when I tell you things get exciting I’m SERIOUS! It was a roller coaster of emotions and I am beyond blessed to have had this opportunity. AND I STILL HAVE ONE MORE FULL DAY!!!!!! I also just got done writing all of the leaders on my bus thank you cards, tomorrow I’ll have everyone on the bus sign them. They deserve so much more, but I hope our love for them will shine through. Write the essay guys.

Day 6

Wednesday, June 15

11:28 am
As I’ve said, I spoke last night, since then countless amazing human beings have came up to me and told me how much they think of me. One was a man named Keith. He felt so strongly about me.. He said the words I already know I’ll never forget. “If I was your dad, I would be crying in the back, because I would be so proud of you.” It was an emotional moment.. Someone being proud of you can give you the wings you need to soar and accomplish any goal set. These people you’ll meet, they’re one of a kind and I can see a clear difference in myself because of them. Write the essay guys.

1:00 pm
The hustle and bustle of the Capital Visitors Center is insane! We ate here and man for a cafeteria it is SO delicious. Leaving for tour now, if the sculptures in the main lobby are any indication on how the rest will look I believe I’m going to be in awe the entire time. Write the essay guys.

2:14 pm
Once again another OUTSTANDING tour guide. The people who can find joy in teaching others will always have my admiration.
Fun fact! Pocahontas and Sacajawea were the only two real women turned into Disney characters.
There’s 2 spots in a room here where you can stand on either end and speak softly and still be able to hear one another. I thought about saying “boo”, but figured my shenanigans might not be as appropriate here as they are in my hotel room.
Confession: I jumped on the bed like a 5 year old. Write the essay guys.

3:23 pm
This is the tale of when Amy got us lost in the Library of Congress.
We went up and down and under and over for at least 30 minutes until we got on this one elevator and an incredibly kind, older woman was there. We asked her where to find the main part of the Library of Congress and she volunteered to show us herself. Now for a backstory.
When we were at Monticello, Amy said, “Fun fact! This tunnel we’re in is what National Treasure 2 was based off of.” (the part where it’s the presidents birthday party). But we quickly figured out it was Mount Vernon instead so the entire trip we (I) have been giving her a hard time.
Back to the elevator. The lady took us down a hall and she seemed to know so much about the library, like a tour guide, and she had this badge on where at this door she stopped us, slid her badge over the access pad, and the doors swung open. Magic. Inside was the small staircase Nicholas Cage went up to find the “book of secretes”.
We call her our fairy god mother because of how coincidental it was for her to give us a secrete, private showing (we were in restricted area…Amy got us VERY lost) of something that we had laughed about the entire trip. Write the essay guys.

8:02 pm
Remember the boat party we had? Well there’s a hotel party 10X better than that! There’s over a thousand kids dancing together! The kids who are good dancers are dancing, and the kids who are bad dancers are dancing because WHO CARES. It is HOT but that’s a small price to pay for the time of your life. I saw a guy walk straight into the girls bathroom and then right back out. His face was DARK red.
Side note: What’s so crazy to me is that he and others I’ve depicted don’t even know they are mentioned in this project I’ve taken on and they don’t know that even in the smallest ways, they’ve touched my life.
I’m sitting down, taking a break, right now. Looking out at these kids faces genuinely brings me joy, because I know some of the futures best and brightest can still have some fun!! Write the essay guys.

10:41 pm
Here it is. The last night. Tonight was filled with excitement. A huge dance party gave everyone a great ending to the trip of our lives. My fellow winners from my co-op, Chloe Keck, Skyler Little, and Kelley Moore are bound for great things. Chloe the intelligent, low-key hilarious poet. Skyler the outgoing, bright, and genuinely sweet fashionista. And Kelley, the all around beautiful inside and out party animal. These three have changed my life and I don’t think they even know it. I still get to fly for the very first time tomorrow! Unfortunately, my thoughts are filled with hopes of going back to day 1 and getting to know these captains of industry, these wise professors, and these care givers even better. I got the sponsors on our bus each a thank you card that personally describes how they’ve touched all of our lives. They are the signs on the road that direct us to better things, they are the miracles that amaze us and change our state of mind, they are our cooperative leaders. To be able to describe to you the feelings of love I have for each individual would require more words to be created. It’s just the kind of thing you have to be here to experience. At least I get to be on the bus by 8:30 am instead of 3:30 am like my roommates. I am truly blessed with the best. Write the essay guys.

Day 7

Thursday, July 16

9:39 am
Mrs. Cathy Mitchell and my cherished bus leaders awarded me Bus 3’s leader by giving me the movie War Room. To be recognized as outstanding in the group of outstanding kids is… Well… Outstanding.
Confession: kind of wishing the bus would brake down so we could stay.. Write the essay guys.

10:16 am
Amy’s freaking out because she has to get her seat assignment at the gate. Oh Amy, all will be well. Write the essay guys.

12:26 pm
We’re on the plane! It’s actually a small jet. You could call it sketchy but I’d call it fun sized. I got a window seat! I promise not to use a corny metaphor like how we are soaring away from the place that changed our lives, only to begin them. Things like that are too cheesy. Write the essay guys.

1:04 pm
Tip: Watch out for turbulence.
Other than that, I always thought looking down at the cities and towns would be what I found most fascinating about flying but no, it’s the clouds. It’s insane to see a cloud actually floating, we always see them from the ground, after a while they seem one dimensional. But from up here collectively they make up a wonderland of cotton candy and ocean foam. From up here, every worry or care I’ve ever had vanishes because of how insignificant they are to the big picture. I’m going to change this world I’m flying over. I’m going to take on the big picture. Write the essay guys.

Back home

2:41 pm
I was afraid to write my final entry in this journal. I thought that once I finished, my adventure would be, too. I hope it speaks to you, future readers, how reluctant I was to write this final entry. I hope it shows you that the people you meet, such as Joshua Laster, a young man who from first words spoken amazed you with his courage and brilliance, will leave an impact on you that will never fade. I hope it shows you that the environment created with the lack of “clicks” or social groups makes for an indescribable burst of personality from each and every kid that you won’t see ANYWHERE else. And I hope it shows you that the adults you’ll meet, such as Mrs. Cathy Mitchell who has given me a new role model to look up to or Mrs. Amy Kirkland who has inspired me to bring the excitement from this trip to my hometown or Mr. Todd BLANK for showing me how to present myself as a structured and respectable young man, will forever be the angels on your shoulder, directing you to do right. This journal was my attempt at conveying just some of my experiences and emotions I felt on this 7 day escape from reality. I challenge you to dig deep inside of your imagination for the story you dare to send in, the story that will take the judges through your innermost creative thoughts, the story that you will never regret writing. And maybe then, those 900 words will change your life too.

Shannon Dennard

Youth Tour builds leaders

Youth Tour delegates earned their unforgettable trips to D.C. for writing winning 900-word short stories describing the valuable community-strengthening services provided by local electric cooperatives.

In addition to spots on the tour, delegates had a chance at a share of $16,000 in scholarship money. The top-judged short story from each co-op service area was entered in a statewide competition. The scholarships were renamed this year in memory of Robert McCarty, employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and longtime Youth Tour chaperone who lost his battle with cancer in 2015.

Taking first place and winning a $3,000 scholarship was Hope Kelley, representing Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative. Katie Torrance, Volunteer Energy Cooperative, won the second-place $2,000 scholarship. Third place and a $1,000 scholarship went to Kaitlyn Springer, Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative.

Finally, Megan Lewis, who represented Tri-State Electric Membership Corporation in 2015, was awarded the $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship given to a delegate who remains engaged with his or her sponsoring cooperative and completes certain community service requirements.

A public-speaking competition was also held on the tour to name a Youth Leadership Council representative. Montana Woodard, Mountain Electric Cooperative, will represent Tennessee at state and national cooperative association meetings.


About Author

Robin Conover

Robin Conover has spent the last 23 years documenting the people and places of Tennessee with The Tennessee Magazine. After graduating from Murray State University, Robin began working for magazine in October 1988 as a communications specialist and photojournalist. She now serves as TECA vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. Her interest in preserving the environment and Tennessee’s beautiful natural areas has led her down many miles of trails to capture thousands of images. Robin is currently a board member of the Friends of Radnor Lake, a nonprofit in Nashville. Robin’s images can be seen in greeting cards, calendars, books and at a few fine-art shows she participates in each year.

1 Comment

  1. Julie Jones on

    Loved this article and the excerpts from Shannon’s journal. He did a wonderful job capturing the pace, the fun, and the opportunity of the trip.

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