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 (NRECA’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.

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. They returned June 23.

“Youth Tour is impactful in many ways,” said Brooke Gross, Youth Tour coordinator of Illinois. “While these future leaders may have thought it was going to simply be a sightseeing trip to our nation’s capital, they returned home with valuable knowledge and memories that will last a lifetime.”

The students visited Capitol Hill and met with Congressmen Mike Bost (R-12), Nikki Budzinski (D-13), Mary Miller (R-15) and Darin LaHood (R-16). They also visited historical and cultural sites including Gettysburg, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, the White House, the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ford’s Theatre, and many more memorials and historic sites.

The tour’s bus ride to D.C. also allowed plenty of time for co-op education. The students formed the Chip ‘N Pop Co-op and ran for seats on the board. The board members included Anna Fenton of Adams Electric Cooperative, Brady Moore of Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, Boston Hails and Kylie Ketcham of Southwestern Electric Cooperative, and Paris Van Dyke of Wabash Communications Co-op.

The board then interviewed candidates and selected Isabella Phillips of Norris Electric Cooperative as the manager. 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.

In addition, students are encouraged to apply to become Illinois’ Youth Leadership Council (YLC) representative. The YLC is a year-long appointment, and Paris Van Dyke of Wabash Communications Co-op was voted by her peers to represent Illinois’ cooperatives at national and state meetings and other events in the year ahead.

Since 1964, the nation’s cooperative electric utilities have sponsored more than 60,000 high school students to visit Washington, D.C., talk one-on-one with their U.S. congressional delegations and learn from energy and grassroots government education sessions. NRECA is the national service organization representing the nation’s more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million consumer-members in 47 states. To learn more about Youth Tour, go to youthtour.coop or Facebook.com/ILYouthtoWashington.