Feature
It’s the Trip of a Lifetime
Texas’ Government-in-Action Youth Tour students from 1965 to today are still abuzz over whirlwind week in Washington, D.C.

Texans on the Government-in-Action Youth Tour raced to the steps of the Jefferson Memorial to strike a pose during a busy week: Standing, from left, Mahlet Dozier, Evan Weiss, Isabella Bortolussi, Angeline Phillips and Miranda Ponzio; and, sitting, Haley Hodgins and John Derry.
Stephen Barrett

You’re a high school student in rural Texas. You’re smart; you have big dreams. Maybe you’ve never been out of the state, and maybe you’ve never flown in a plane, but you want to travel—experience a big city, visit national landmarks and meet people, and not just fellow high schoolers but influential public figures, like U.S. representatives.

If that describes you, then you’re a candidate to compete for a slot on the Government-in-Action Youth Tour, a weeklong all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by electric cooperatives and organized by Texas Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The idea came from President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan who advocated for rural electrification and youth development. In 1957, when he was still a U.S. senator, Johnson suggested “sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”

This notion evolved into a nationwide effort to send youths on an organized, fun and educational trip in the 1960s. Now, about 50 years later, electric cooperatives in nearly every state send more than 1,500 youths to the country’s capital city every summer.

See the Whole Story

Download this PDF to view the complete story package, including the 2013 trip itinerary and a map of places Youth Tour participants visited.

Extras

7 T-Shirts

 

Students receive matching T-shirts and polos to wear each day during the tour.

 

50 Stickers

 

Each student gets a stack of 50 stickers to exchange with participants from other states, a Youth Tour tradition.

 

Social Media

 

Follow Youth Tour on Twitter @YouthTourDC. Tweet with #YTDC.

 

More than 1,000 members joined Youth Tour’s Facebook group.

 

Photos

 

Find professional photos at photos.youthtour.org.

The Details

How To Apply

 

Contact your electric cooperative. Although Youth Tour is a national program, individual cooperatives sponsor local students and create their own application deadlines and processes, which can include a brief essay, speech contest and/or interview. To identify your co-op, visit youthtour.coop/findyourcoop.

 

Instead of Youth Tour, some cooperatives in East Texas participate in the East Texas Rural Electric Youth Seminar held each summer on a college campus. East Texas Baptist University in Marshall hosted the 2013 seminar in June. The ETREYS program concentrates on leadership skills, problem-solving and interpersonal relationships among co-op youths.

 

Youth Leadership Council

 

During Youth Tour, students and chaperones elect a delegate to represent Texas on the Youth Leadership Council. YLC representatives—one from each state—return to Washington, D.C., about a month after Youth Tour for a conference where they enhance their leadership and public-speaking skills and learn about the energy industry and co-op business model. The following spring, they participate in the NRECA’s annual meeting, carrying their home state’s flag at opening ceremonies, helping attendees contact their legislators about pertinent co-op issues, and serving as pages and assistants.

 

National Youth Day

 

On National Youth Day, Youth Tour students from all states convene for a program that highlights the spirit of electric cooperatives’ commitment to community and the importance of civic engagement. Features have included inspirational and motivational speakers, social events and introductions to Youth Leadership Council representatives.

Texas co-ops have upheld their commitment to educating youths and supporting their communities by sponsoring students on the trip every year since 1965. This June, 113 Texas high school students went on Youth Tour.

Even after five decades, the refrain from those returning remains the same.

“That trip was one of the absolute highlights of my life. I’m still so appreciative of those experiences and what the co-op invested in me and the people that spent time with me because it widened a little country girl’s world in ways that I would have never dreamed possible.”
Ethel (Mabry) Ellison | Lighthouse EC, 1965

It’s the trip of a lifetime.

You could be part of this electric cooperative legacy with the 2014 Government-in-Action Youth Tour. Next year’s trip is June 12–20, but it’s not too soon to ask your electric cooperative how to apply and start studying the map and thinking about what you’re going to ask your U.S. representatives and senators.

Mapping the Decades

Past participants are still talking about their experiences; hear from six decades of Youth Tour delegates who have gone before.

1960s

“We were up there [at Arlington National Cemetery] after Kennedy’s assassination, and another person on the tour and I got to lay a wreath on his grave, and it was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life to this day.”
Ethel (Mabry) Ellison | Lighthouse EC, 1965

“I remember shaking [President Lyndon] Johnson’s hand.”
Ethel (Mabry) Ellison | Lighthouse EC, 1965

1970s

“I was just in awe at the discipline and precision of the guards [at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier], and my emotional reaction was overwhelming at the respect and honor that was given to those who died serving our country.”
Kerri (Arnold) Mercer | Swisher EC, 1975

“One of the first historical sights we visited in Washington was the Lincoln Memorial. Before leaving, the Texas delegation gathered on the front steps and sang ‘America the Beautiful,’ much to the surprise of the other tourists. It seemed like the only appropriate thing to do, for each of us had suddenly become aware of a closeness to our country and to each other that we never felt before.”
Paulett (Tielsch) Renfro | Fayette EC, 1970

1980s

“Back then, kids didn’t travel as much as they do today. As such, my only reference for government or history was what I saw right there in Fayette County and surrounding areas. The blend of the history, the government, and the sheer experience of the trip (friendships and camaraderie) drove home the concept of a larger world and the sheer magnificence of our country.”
Sarah (Muras) Koehl | Fayette EC, 1988

“I was one of the youngest members of the 1985 Youth Tour. I was 15, when most were graduating from high school. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. While all the other members of the tour visited our nation’s Capitol, I walked across the street to The Supreme Court. I lucked out; the Court was in session, and I was permitted to sit on the back row and witness oral arguments. I was in awe. My lasting impression of the tour is the openness of our government—how ordinary citizens can access justice and impact decision-makers.”
Carrie Campbell (a practicing lawyer since 1995) | Pedernales EC, 1985

1990s

“Participating in the Youth Tour focused my interest in working for the government, and I decided while on the tour to commit my life to public service. The majesty of the monuments to the famous and less-famous men and women who dedicated their careers and in some cases their lives to our country inspired me to turn my talents toward serving the people of the United States of America.

“Young people experiencing our nation’s history and government firsthand garner a better understanding of American struggles, achievements and sacrifices. The Youth Tour makes history books come alive.”
Dana R. Williams | Pedernales EC, 1990

“The wonderful experience of traveling to Washington, D.C., played a huge part in my decision to obtain my bachelor’s degree in government and history. The Lincoln Memorial made the biggest impression on me because it filled me with such inspiration and hope … The opportunity given to me almost 22 years ago has provided me a lasting encouragement and motivation that I apply in every arena of my life.”
Kristi Bason Sargent | HILCO EC, 1991

“It was a really moving experience to witness the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon perform at the Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial. We had been hustling and bustling all week long, and suddenly, we were silent, captivated. It was one of the most patriotic things I’d ever seen. These men have made a promise to protect this country and to see that discipline in beautiful action and precision was amazing.”
Ashley Clary-Carpenter | Medina EC, 1996

“The Smithsonian was just amazing. I wished I could have spent the whole time there, exploring, but there is so much to see in D.C.!

“I vividly remember the day that we went to the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb guard’s shoes were so shiny, and he was so meticulous to take the 21 steps, wait 21 seconds, take 21 steps back and do it all over again. What dedication and respect for his fellow soldiers. To look out at Arlington National Cemetery and see all the soldiers who have died for freedom of the citizens of the United States of America was an eye-opener and would give anyone the goose bumps. The rows were perfectly lined, no matter which way you looked, and they seemed to go on forever.”
Amanda Jo Harman Ritchey | Swisher EC, 1996

“I was able to see so much of our nation’s history. How many people can actually say that they saw the Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, Mount Vernon, Library of Congress, White House, Capitol and much more in the span of just a few days?”
Lindsey Weaks | Swisher EC, 1997

“I was with one of the last groups that got to go up on the charter buses [groups have been flying since 2004], and for me, that time was priceless. I was able to meet and get to spend time with more people than I ever thought would have been possible.”
Lindsey Weaks | Swisher EC, 1997

2000s

“There were so many special moments and memories made during my trip to Washington D.C., but one of the most impactful was seeing the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial, with the serene reflecting pool separating the two. Standing there and thinking about all the historical figures who had walked those same grounds, it truly impacted me in a way that is hard to describe. To this day, when I see a movie or photograph with those landmarks, I realize how lucky I was that Fayette Electric Cooperative chose me to go on this trip.”
Stacey Kovar | Fayette EC, 2004

“Seeing all the names of soldiers [on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall] who sacrificed everything for our freedom gave me chills. You could see people looking for past family members’ names, and it felt like the past soldiers talked to you as you walked the memorial. The statues in the middle of the memorial create such an image in your mind, especially at nighttime when the lights in the garden come on. The names have a soft glow that just makes for a serene sight that will take your breath away.”
Kassidy Martin | Swisher EC, 2006

“The overwhelming feeling when looking at the thousands of tombstones [at Arlington National Cemetery] of those who gave their lives for our country is indescribable. Having many family members and friends who have served and currently are serving in the military really made this hit home for me. During the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it was as if everyone was thinking the same thing … as if the entire crowd had the same feeling of respect, and also a slight sadness. It really was one of the most moving things I have ever experienced.”
Kaylyn Barrett | Navasota EC, 2007

“It was humbling to me to see [at Arlington National Cemetery] how many people have given their lives to defend this country. Words can hardly describe how it felt to be able to visit that place and honor those people, as well as so many others who have gone unidentified, by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I was almost in tears that day. And then, to learn of the history of Arlington National Cemetery and see what all is there besides the perfectly aligned headstones was truly a fascinating experience.”
Wesley Martin | United Cooperative Services, 2007

“I took over 400 pictures on the trip. I couldn’t put the camera down.”
Wesley Martin | United Cooperative Services, 2007

2010s

“One of my favorite features was the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a memorial for President John F. Kennedy. I was amazed by its beauty, and the tour was educating and enjoyable … Seeing the flags of America’s allies hung high on the wall was breathtaking.”
Annie McGinnis | Grayson-Collin EC, 2011 (returned 2012 and 2013 as chaperone and trip photographer)

“We ate supper in Old Town Alexandria, which was a beautiful area to explore. I loved the atmosphere, small shops and restaurants. Old Town Alexandria is where I learned you must use the crosswalks, or you could possibly get run over by angry, impatient Northerners.”
Annie McGinnis | Grayson-Collin EC, 2011 (returned 2012 and 2013 as chaperone and trip photographer)

“Meeting Congressman Ralph Hall was educational. He taught the group much about life, and shared the fact that he still runs two miles every day.”
Annie McGinnis | Grayson-Collin EC, 2011 (returned 2012 and 2013 as chaperone and trip photographer)

“While sitting in the gallery [of the House of Representatives], I had the great opportunity of witnessing the inauguration of Rep. Ron Barber to complete the remainder of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s term. This is a memory that I will always treasure because I was able to take part in the inauguration ceremony, which many people have not been afforded the opportunity to experience. In addition, this event had the biggest impression on me because one of the objectives of the Youth Tour is to enable the attendees to see the ‘government in action,’ and not only did I see the representatives while they were working, but rather, I was able to see a piece of history being made.”
Kalie Pietsch | Fayette EC, 2012

“Walking through [the Holocaust Memorial Museum] and seeing everything that they went through, it just caused silence. To go in there after being so loud and crazy and having fun, and just hearing that silence, it was really humbling. That small voice that I heard when I looked at every picture and every article was telling me to ‘think.’ I wish I could live this experience over and over again.”
Sarah Branham | Swisher EC, 2012

More

“The maturation of youthful teens was remarkable. I received numerous letters from parents after the trip saying: ‘I don’t know what you did on that trip, but my son/daughter is a different person—more attentive to homework, watches the nightly news, has a positive outlook on life and has made many new friends.’ ”
Dennis Engelke | TEC Youth Tour director, 1976-2000

“During one of the White House visits, we had been waiting on the South Lawn for a long time for the president to arrive. A door to the White House suddenly springs open … and out walks a Youth Tour participant escorted by the Secret Service. He had had to go to the restroom. How many people can say they went to the restroom in the White House?”
Dennis Engelke | TEC Youth Tour director, 1976-2000