Washington Youth Tour
Pictured from left to right: Leah Dollard of Hemingway, Amber Horton of Abbeville, Kristin Crowley of Clio, Lauren Roland of St. Matthews and Malik McGill of Mullins near the entrance of the World War II Memorial. “I’ve seen pictures of all the memorials, but it’s so much more inspiring when you can see them in person,” Horton said. “They’re amazing.”
Each spring, South Carolina's 20 electric cooperatives offer high school juniors a remarkable opportunity: an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., called Youth Tour. A thorough interview process at each cooperative identifies students who display dedication in the classroom as well as a commitment to their community.
Forty-nine students from every corner of South Carolina participated in this year’s trip, which began on June 15. The group arrived at the airport as strangers, unsure of what lay ahead. Some had never flown before. A handful had never left the state’s borders.
Once the group reached Washington, D.C., the South Carolina delegation joined more than 1,500 students representing 42 states—all participants in the national Youth Tour program created by the nation’s electric cooperatives 49 years ago. The idea behind the event is still as relevant as it was in 1964. It is a belief that textbooks and lectures alone are not enough to help young people understand the democratic process. They must see it firsthand.
The five-day trip is a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., and includes visits with lawmakers as well as tours of national memorials, museums, the U.S. Capitol and Arlington National Cemetery. As the days race by, students begin to broaden their view of the world, inspiring a select number to embrace opportunities for personal growth. Scott Harvin, a rising senior at Wilson Hall Academy in Sumter, was elected by the students to represent South Carolina at the national Youth Leadership Conference. For Melody Wright of Laurens, Youth Tour’s lasting impact means assistance a year from now when she goes to college. Wright is the recipient of the 2013 Robert D. Bennett Scholarship, a $2,500 award to help offset the cost of tuition.
When the five-day tour came to a close, students who were complete strangers a week before had formed lasting friendships. Learning about the nation’s history and heritage is fundamental, but the most valuable lessons may be those they learn from one another—that students from diverse backgrounds can create a trip that inspires, informs and helps prepare them for the world that awaits them after high school.
A show of solidarity
The devastating May tornado that flattened much of Moore, Okla., produced shock and sadness across the country. Immediately, America’s family of electric cooperatives began to help.
In an effort to raise money for recovery efforts, Kay Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma designed “Oklahoma Proud” T-shirts and sold them for $15. South Carolina bought 57 shirts—one for every Youth Tour student and chaperone. When all 1,570 Youth Tour students gathered for Youth Day, the South Carolina delegation wore their “Oklahoma Proud” T-shirts to the program.
“I thought it was a great way for our students to show their support for the folks who lost so much in Oklahoma,” said Van O’Cain, South Carolina’s Youth Tour coordinator.
On the first day of Youth Tour, students created their own cooperative named The Soda Pop Co-op. At each stop along the tour, the co-op sold drinks for $1— 60 percent cheaper than the average concession price in Washington, D.C. When the co-op closed on the last night of Youth Tour, general manager Scott Harvin announced profits of $435. Instead of returning the proceeds as capital credits, the co-op members voted to donate the money to Oklahoma storm victims.
“I know we could have all taken a share of the money, but I think we should be proud to pass this along to Oklahoma,” Harvin said.
Students: For information on applying for the 2014 Washington Youth Tour, contact your local electric cooperative.
Chaperones: Teachers interested in serving as chaperones for the 2014 Washington Youth Tour should contact South Carolina Youth Tour coordinator Van O’Cain at (803) 739-3048.
See more photos from the 2013 trip here.