Fifty-three young leaders representing 24 Illinois electric and telephone cooperatives boarded buses and departed for Washington, D.C. on June 16 for the annual National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's Youth to Washington Tour. They joined more than 1,800 youth delegates from across the nation for this annual tradition that has spanned nearly 60 years.
Chase Cline of Fairfield Community High School and Lexi McKinney of Edwards County High School represented Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative during the all-expenses paid trip to D.C. from June 16-23, 2023. During Youth Tour, they had the opportunity to witness the government in action, meet their elected officials, and see the sights of the capital city.
"Youth Tour is impactful in many ways," said Brooke Gross, Youth Tour coordinator for Illinois. "While these future leaders may have thought it was going to simply be a sight-seeing trip to our nation's capital, they returned home with valuable knowledge and memories that will last a lifetime."
Both students stated they would recommend this trip to other students when given the opportunity. "I would 110% recommend this trip to other high schoolers. This trip is a once in a lifetime experience that offers so much more than just a vacation. I came back with a totally different perspective on our country's history. I am so proud to be an American. I also made so many memories and friendships that will last a lifetime," McKinney stated. "It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet both new friends and the people who represent you in Congress, as well as see monuments, memorials, and museums both in and outside of D.C." Cline explained.
When asked what their favorite place they visited was, Cline and McKinney agreed on one place in particular. "The vast majority of the places we visited while we were in Washington, D.C. are there to tell a story, and of these places, none tells their story in a more impactful way than the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum," said Cline. "I really enjoyed visiting the Holocaust museum as well as the Flight 93 Memorial. We hear about them in class and in history books, but seeing these in person is so much different. Meeting holocaust survivors and seeing friends struggle because family members were on Flight 93 made everything so much more real. This trip completely changed my perspective," McKinney added.
Being from small communities and getting thrown into a group of fifty-one other students they did not know beforehand can be overwhelming. However, both students went outside their comfort zone and gained confidence in themselves during the trip. "We had awesome chaperones and they liked to keep the energy on 10 at all times. One activity we did was karaoke on the bus. I was nervous, but stepped out of my comfort zone to jam out to Bruno Mars into the mic. Traveling with strangers was something I overcame as well. It ended up being a blast," said McKinney. "Our chaperones organized a cooperative that sold drinks and snacks throughout the week. The Chip 'N Pop Co-op was structured like any cooperative, with a board of directors and a manager; the only difference between it and regular cooperatives was that because the board of directors could not represent a district, they were each appointed by seven different selection committees, each of which had to interview every applicant for the board of directors, including myself. Being interviewed seven times by people who were mostly, at that point, complete strangers to me, was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I'm glad I did it!" Cline stated.
The students visited Capitol Hill and met with Congressman Mike Bost (R-12). They also visited historical and cultural sites including Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, the White House, the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution, Ford's Theatre, and many more.
The tour's bus ride to D.C. also allowed plenty of time for co-op education. As Cline mentioned, the students formed a Chip 'N Pop Co-op. Traditionally, money made during the trip is returned to the students as capital credits. This year, the Chip 'N Pop Co-op members voted to donate the profits of more than $200 back to the Youth Tour Program.
High school students who live within our service area are eligible to participate in the annual program. To learn more about Youth Tour, go to youthtour.coop or Facebook.com/ILYouthtoWashington.