Nearly 140 high school seniors from across Tennessee have returned from a weeklong “experience of a lifetime” courtesy of their local electric cooperatives. Cherokee High School students Nikki Belcher, Brady Biggs and Landon Margetjak, all of Rogersville; Volunteer High School students Kayla Darnell of Church Hill and Megan Painter of Surgoinsville as well as Morristown Hamblen High School East student Mattie Bryant of Morristown were sponsored by Holston Electric Cooperative to participate in the 2017 Washington Youth Tour June 9-15.
The popular event included sightseeing, visits with elected officials and lots of fun meeting peers from across Tennessee and the nation. Delegates earned their spots on the Youth Tour for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: Going Beyond the Wires.” In their winning entries, the talented young writers described how member-owned, nonprofit electric co-ops strengthen their local communities and improve lives across their service areas while providing safe, reliable, affordable energy.
“We take great pride in rewarding the best and brightest from our service area,” said Michelle Simpson, Director of Member Services, as a chaperone on this year’s trip. “By recognizing their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these leaders of tomorrow that their hometown electric co-op is more than a utility provider; Holston Electric Cooperative is an active member of the community and fully invested in its prosperity.”
For more than 50 years, the Washington Youth Tour has taken students from electric co-op service areas to our nation’s capital to learn more about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by Holston Electric Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This year’s Youth Tour involved 1,700 students from 43 states.
“Young Americans given the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C., by their electric cooperatives experience a life-changing event,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “They talk to their elected officials in person, connect to our nation’s rich history and have a hands-on experience with democracy. Youth Tour enriches their understanding of the political process and the vital importance of direct engagement. As a result, they return to their communities with a deeper commitment to the communities they represent.”
On their 2017 visit, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. Among other Youth Tour highlights were a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns..
The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Rep. Phil Roe spent time with his young constituents from Holston Electric Cooperative, posing for photos and answering their questions.
“Our commitment to community is what sets cooperatives apart from other businesses,” said General Manager Jimmy Sandlin. “The Washington Youth Tour is one way we show the youth of our service area that Holston Electric Cooperative is more than their electricity provider. We genuinely care about the prosperity of our communities, and that includes providing special opportunities for these exceptional students and preparing them for future success.”
These students will never forget their visit to the White House. From Left, Megan Painter, Kayla Darnell, Landon Margetjak, Nikki Belcher, Brady Biggs, and Mattie Bryant.