Local Students Represent Wayne-White in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each year, hundreds of high school students from across the United States embark on an educational and inspirational journey to the nation’s capital city. Sponsored by Illinois’ electric and telephone cooperatives, 54 students departed Springfield, Ill., by bus on June 14 to Washington, D.C., for a weeklong trip of a lifetime.

Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative sponsored two students within its service territory. These students included Lathan Erwin from Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School and Sarah Ruhl of Fairfield Community High School.

Youth Tour began in 1964, after President Lyndon B. Johnson inspired the nation’s electric cooperatives to sponsor youths to go to D.C. to educate young people about the role of electric co-ops and the significance of the legislative process. It became an annual tradition.

“Youth Tour is more than just a trip,” said Brooke Gross, Youth Tour coordinator from the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that empowers future leaders to become informed, engaged and active citizens. Many Youth Tour alumni go on to become leaders in their communities, inspired by this experience.”

The event offers a unique opportunity for students to explore the nation’s capital, meet their peers from across the state and beyond, and engage with the political process. Youth Tour not only highlights the importance of electric cooperatives but also fosters civic engagement and leadership skills.

The itinerary for the Youth Tour was packed with both educational and cultural experiences. The students visited major landmarks such as Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall. They also visited several museums, including the Smithsonian, Air and Space Museum, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“There’s a lot more to Youth Tour than sightseeing,” Gross said. “It also provides students with a deeper understanding of American history and government and the role electric and telephone cooperatives play in the communities they serve.”

One way the students learned about cooperatives was by forming one themselves. The Chip ’n’ Pop Co-op is an engaging way to provide the Youth Tour participants with experience in understanding the fundamentals of the cooperative business model.

“This hands-on activity emphasizes the importance of teamwork,” Gross said. “The students gained practical business skills and a deeper appreciation for cooperatives.”

The students created their own snack shop cooperative by forming a nominating committee, electing a board of directors and hiring a co-op manager. Both Wayne-White representatives Erwin and Ruhl participated as members of the nominating committee. The students worked together to manage all aspects of the operation and had an equal say in decision-making, just like the cooperatives that sponsored them on the trip.

In addition, the students voted for one of their peers to represent Illinois on the Youth Leadership Council (YLC). Those interested in becoming Illinois’ YLC representative filled out an application, and five were selected to give a speech in front of their peers. Cole Buchanan, representing SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, was selected as the 2024-2025 YLC representative for Illinois. He will represent the state at national and state meetings and events in the year ahead.

“The impact of Youth Tour goes far beyond Washington, D.C.,” Gross said. “One of the most impactful parts of Youth Tour is the relationships that students build with their peers from different parts of the state and country. These connections often turn into lifelong friendships.”

High school students who live within the service area of WWCEC are eligible to participate in the annual program. To learn more about Youth Tour, go to youthtour.coop or facebook.com/ILYouthTour.

Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative is committed to providing superior service based on four core principles: integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community. The cooperative serves more than 13,700 meters over 3,196 miles of line in parts of Clay, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Marion, Richland, Wabash, Wayne and White counties. For more information visit WayneWhiteCoop.com.