VEC Sponsors Local Students on Trip of a Lifetime

More than 140 high school juniors from across Tennessee experienced an in-depth look at our nation’s capital during the electric cooperative’s 2012 Washington Youth Tour.

Destinee Dowdy of Crossville, Chelseyrae Hancock of Jamestown, Alison Dyke of Athens, and MeKayla Cronin of Old Fort participated in the weeklong tour of Washington, D.C., for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: iPower the Future,” describing how locally owned, member-controlled electric cooperatives provide valuable community-building support in addition to reliable and affordable electric service. Melissa England, junior English teacher at Clarkrange High School, was also awarded a spot on the trip to recognize her invaluable support of the co-op’s youth programs.

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is a joint effort of Volunteer Energy Cooperative, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Each school year, VEC sponsors a short story contest for high school juniors. Winners are awarded an expense-paid trip to our nation’s capital the following June as part of the Washington Youth Tour. This year’s trip ran June 15-21.
“Youth Tour is one of the most rewarding things that I do all year,” said VEC Communications Coordinator Robert McCarty who served as a chaperone along with VEC’s Paige Finnell. “These students not only learn about our nation and their electric cooperative, but they also learn leadership skills that will benefit them in college and beyond.”

Students on the tour visited 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 conflicts. Strolls through the varied museums of the Smithsonian Institution afforded the students opportunities to learn more about science, history and art. Other fun stops included homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — a performance of “Memphis!” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and tours of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of Crime and Punishment and the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

The Youth Tour also included a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And the Tennessee group marveled at the precision and skill of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon at the Sunset Parade, performed in front of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial’s iconic statue re-creating the flag-raising over Iwo Jima.
No trip to Washington, D.C., would be complete without a lesson or two in government and civics.

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Representatives Diane Black and Stephen Fincher, and their staff members treated students to a special after-hours, VIP tour. Students also met Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker as well as Representatives Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Scott DesJarlais, John Duncan, Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleischmann, and Phil Roe.

Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegation joined other trip winners from across the country for Youth Day on Monday, June 18. More than 1,500 students came together to swap stories of their Washington experiences. They listened to presentations by former Nebraska State Sen. David Landis, who told, in character, the story of the late U.S. Sen. George W. Norris of Neb., explaining the formation of and the politics surrounding the creation of electric cooperatives and the Rural Electrification Act, and Mike Schlappi, a four-time Paralympic medalist and two-time wheelchair basketball champion, who urged the young attendees, “Just because you can’t stand up doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.”

“We are owned by our members, and it is so important that our members understand how that makes us different. Our communities and our co-ops need strong leadership, and youth tour is one way we can help prepare students for the roles they may one day fill,” said VEC President/CEO Rody Blevins. “Youth tour and similar educational opportunities made possible by VEC are designed to help students understand what it takes to be a leader in their communities and why leadership is so important.”

VEC’s group visits the U.S. Capitol Building. From left: Melissa England, Alison Dyke, Chelseyrae Hancock, Destiny Dowdy, MeKayla Cronin, and Paige Finnell.