NRECA Hosts 49th Annual Youth TourBy Derrill Holly | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 13th, 2013
Hundreds of young consumer-members from electric cooperatives across the United States are headed to the nation’s capital to carry on a tradition launched in the 1950s to support rural electrification.
“This is NRECA’s 49th annual Electric Cooperative Youth Tour and the largest one ever,” said Steve Uram, senior grassroots advocacy advisor at NRECA, and the organization’s tour coordinator. “We’ve got 1,589 students and 299 chaperones coming from 43 states.”
Students and chaperones begin arriving June 14 for a week’s immersion in culture, history and American heritage.
While most of their time will be spent in and around Washington, D.C., some will visit Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, the red brick garrison that kept the British at bay in 1814 and inspired the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Others will head to Marine Corps Base Quantico or detour to one of several Civil War-era battlefields in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“Many of our students are traveling away from home without their families for the first time,” said Uram, “Youth Tour gives them opportunities to spend time with co-op kids from all across the country.”
While NRECA has officially sponsored Youth Tour since 1964, its history began with a challenge issued by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, during NRECA’s 1957 annual meeting.
“Send youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents,” Johnson, a future president, said in a speech to NRECA delegates in Chicago.
Within months, small groups of young people from Iowa began arriving in Washington, D.C. Groups from other states soon followed, touring the Capitol, visiting museums and viewing monuments and memorials as guests of their co-ops and statewide associations.
Those early tours launched the annual tradition of heading to the offices of members of their respective state’s congressional delegations, said Uram. “This program has helped generations of lawmakers put human faces on legislation affecting rural America.”
One of the biggest gatherings of the week will be NRECA Youth Day, June 17, when all of the young people get together for a rally and program in Arlington, Va. Besides a morning filled with music, there will be inspirational speakers and appearances by NRECA officials who will talk about rural electrification and the economic development role co-ops play in their communities.
“This is really going to be a celebration of the program and the co-ops’ efforts to promote Youth Tour as we look ahead to NRECA’s 50th anniversary as sponsors of the program,” said Uram.
“Youth Tour plays to the very heart of our cooperative principles,” he said. “The week stresses commitment to community through education and community involvement. This is what co-ops do.”