Sewing the fabric of our future


You already know that your electric cooperative has made long-term plans to keep your lights on. But did you know that your cooperative is also planning for the future of your community, state and nation? The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas — which consist of the 17 local distribution cooperatives, plus the generation and transmission and statewide services cooperatives — have had a long-term focus on the youth of our communities for many decades. Over the years, we have partnered with and promoted many different types of educational and leadership activities for these future leaders of Arkansas and our country. From 4-H to Future Farmers of America (FFA), and the Youth Tour trip to Washington, D.C., your electric cooperative is engaged in preparing our young people to be stewards and leaders here at home or anywhere across the globe.

Arkansas Youth Tour delegates from a previous year pose in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. photo Geri Miller

Our annual Youth Tour trip allows a pilgrimage of high school students to Washington, D.C., to visit and learn about our nation’s history and its government. The Youth Tour concept was the idea of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who suggested the creation of such a program back in 1957, when he was a U.S. senator from Texas. He urged cooperative directors and staff to bring young people to the nation’s capital to see firsthand how our democratic government works. The first Youth Tour to D.C. was initiated in Iowa, later followed by Illinois. By 1959, the Youth Tour had grown to 130 students. Today, more than 1,600 young people plus chaperones attend each year, including 40 high school juniors from Arkansas.

For one week, these bright and energetic teenagers experience the magnificence of our U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery. They visit with the U.S. representatives and senators of our Arkansas delegation, and they learn about the history of this great nation and how our federal laws are created. Many of these teenagers go back home, interested in law, government and history. They are forever changed by what they see and hear in Washington; their young minds and hearts absorb the significance and power of our democratic government and the model that we set for the rest of the world.

Over the past 30 years, the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives’ Youth Tours have created indelible memories and experiences for more than 1,200 Arkansans. Their education and career choices — including careers in community and public service — could well be the results of these experiences. Some of our current government and industry leaders were once these young high school students who are now shaping social policies and business decisions in Arkansas and across the country.

In addition to Youth Tour, electric cooperatives across the state are involved with the Arkansas 4-H program and Future Farmers of America. We support and promote their missions and programs, and we assist with their various community activities and competitions. Electric cooperatives also promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, such as FIRST Arkansas, a competitive robotics program, and SeaPerch, an underwater robotics program for grade school through high school students. Both of these programs stimulate interest in STEM education, which could lead to future careers in these cutting-edge industries.

Talent and potential know no boundaries, and we are proud to help provide opportunities to the youths of our communities. Our passion for inspiring and equipping our young people is yet another “cooperative difference.”

Sandra Byrd is vice president of public affairs and member services for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (AECI).