Since the 1950s, the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has brought high school students
to Washington, D.C., to get an up-close-and-personal look at our nation’s capital.
Until it couldn’t be in person.
COVID-19 caused the events to be canceled in 2020 and 2021. Still, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas kept its commitment to high school juniors, creating a virtual Youth Tour experience, complete with government officials and other important speakers, last year.
This year, the trip was back on. Make that trips, plural, as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) announced: “We are thrilled to be back. … States participating in NRECA’s 2022 Youth Tour are staying in Washington for about a week and staggering their travel dates between June 14 and June 24.”
The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas sent 35 students on an all-expenses-paid trip from June 17-23.
“It was great to be back on the ground in D.C. for Youth Tour,” says JD Lowery, Arkansas Youth Tour coordinator and community and economic development manager for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC). “It’s hard to believe we haven’t been there since 2019. This year’s group was fantastic. Their excitement was contagious.”
We asked these fantastic delegates — a different one each day — to share their experiences and their excitement in their own words.
By Annaliese Mikay Lengenfelder
Mountain Home, North Arkansas Electric
We started off this Friday morning with a beautiful drive through Arkansas to meet at our hotel in Little Rock. Ten students who applied were then interviewed for a chance to serve as the Arkansas delegate for the NRECA Youth Leadership Council (YLC). One of the YLC applicants, Alayna Turner of Mansfield (Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative), said, “The interview process was great; it was like a normal conversation. I was able to talk a lot about myself and my electric cooperative.”
Everyone was nervous since it was the first time a lot of us were meeting each other. We had a lunch, where our parents got to learn about what we were going to be doing and what we’d get to experience.
After our parents left, we gathered up and headed to the Arkansas state Capitol (a first for Youth Tour). It is a beautiful, white building that is made of limestone and took 16 years to build. When we went inside, we were greeted by tour guides. They took us all around and told us the history of the Capitol. We also ran into Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Sen. Ben Gilmore, who spoke to us and took us on the floor of the Senate. All of the students got an opportunity to hold $100,000 in cash and take a picture with it. After we got done touring the Capitol, we headed back to the hotel, where we had some downtime and had dinner. After dinner, we ended the night by all introducing ourselves and then hearing from our three YLC finalists. After being named YLC delegate, Rukaya Alrubaye of Fayetteville (Ozarks Electric Cooperative), said, “I am so excited and grateful. … I hope to make connections with people across the country and improve my speaking and leadership skills.”
By Jayda Young
Dierks, Rich Mountain Electric
Today, we flew from Little Rock to St. Louis, then from St. Louis to Washington, D.C. With it being my first time flying, it was a wonderful experience to start out on! Everyone was stressed and in a hurry to catch the flight, but in the end, we made it, and everything turned out perfect. When we landed in D.C., we looked like chickens with our heads cut off as we ran around the luggage belt looking for our bags.
As we loaded our tour bus to head to Mount Vernon, we all were very excited to see what we would learn and hear, touring George Washington’s beautiful house. Moving on to the NRECA Youth Tour conference, many great speakers shared their stories of how they got to where they are today, and most of their stories originated from their first Youth Tour. It inspired them to have goals in life and to not give up. They told us that change for the better needs to be made in the world, and they explained how we could be that change.
Our last speaker of the night was Mike Schlappi, a Paralympic Olympic Medalist in wheelchair basketball. He spoke about his journey of getting shot, which made him paralyzed, and told us a great message. He talked about how easy it was for him to want to give up, but he knew there was more to his life than that. He talked about how just because he was paralyzed, that didn’t stop him from being the best athlete that he could be. His speech was powerful, and I will always remember it. He made a way to accomplish the things he wanted in life. He never gave up in his journey of finding out what his purpose in life was, and he stressed that we should do the same. It was a great lesson that impacted everyone, and you could tell by looking around the room when he finished talking. Mike really set the bar high for everyone as we continued our tour!
By Jenna Bray
Dierks, Rich Mountain Electric
Sunday morning starts off with a bright and early bus ride to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When we arrive later in the morning, we explore the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum to learn about the events that occurred in the early days of July 1863. The museum is packed with exhibits that introduce us to the Civil War before, during and after the Battle of Gettysburg, and it really prepares us for a more meaningful tour of the battlefield we take later in the day. After exploring the exhibits, we watch a film narrated by Morgan Freeman titled A New Birth of Freedom that really orients us to the battle. We then get to “step foot” into the battle while visiting the historic Cyclorama Painting Experience. While viewing the Cyclorama, Taylor Yates of Ozark (Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative) says, “The Cyclorama really helps you see what soldiers went through when they were fighting for freedom.”
We then head out for the actual battlefield, and after visiting the museum, it is very easy to visualize what occurred in July 1863. Harrison Vann of Doddridge (Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative) says, “Going to the Gettysburg Battlefield is emotional. Some people died with the belief that their efforts were made in vain. It’s as if we can understand their passions, even centuries later.” The battlefield is located in a rural area in the Blue Ridge Mountain range, so seeing it in person really feels like we are back in Arkansas.
After leaving the battlefield, we travel back to D.C. to visit the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. The 78-foot-tall memorial depicts six flag-raisers in the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, and it is dedicated to the members of the U.S. Marine Corps who gave their lives to their country.
After dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, we visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. These three men have played prominent roles in our nation’s history, and seeing their memorials in person was a very special moment.
By Harrison Vann
Doddridge, Southwest Arkansas Electric
We started off our Monday morning with a tour of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial. We saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial the day after Father’s Day, when all of the families of the soldiers had left flowers with cards celebrating Father’s Day for them. It truly opened our eyes to the reality that these are not just numbers or names without faces, but real people with families that some were never able to see again.
We visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was truly shocking getting to see the uncensored horrors of what had taken place all those years ago. Everyone in the museum remained very quiet in order to be respectful to the tone of this museum. Each room contained something unique, but one room in particular caught us all off guard. The room that surprised us the most was filled with countless pairs of shoes belonging to the victims of the Holocaust. As stated by Janet Fu (Ozarks Electric Cooperative): “I was beginning to tear up after having read that (the shoes) had only stayed together because they weren’t made of flesh and blood.”
In the afternoon, we toured Arlington National Cemetery. That evening we joined students from Ohio and North Carolina to cruise on the Potomac River.
By Adrianna Tigue
Amity, South Central Arkansas Electric
We who were born after Sept. 11, 2001, don’t realize how traumatizing the event was for everyone involved. Seeing that there is an area that is light and dark on the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and learning the lighter area is where a plane had hit, was moving.
As soon as we walked up to the Washington Monument, everyone in the Arkansas group said how it was way bigger than they expected: “It’s huge! I didn’t think it would be like this!” They stopped building the Washington Monument during the Civil War; they finished the building, and there are two different colors of stone.
In addition to the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of American History, we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was amazing and meaningful.
At the National Archives Museum, everyone was in awe of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. I was surprised because I had never seen anything like it. Everything felt so magical because of how old everything was. I’m so glad that I got to experience seeing all of these things. Instead of reading about them all, I got to see them in person.
We saw incredible architecture; everyone was surprised about how big the U.S. Capitol actually is. Everyone was very tired, but we were also super excited to be at the Capitol, and learn all the history and cool facts shared by Rep. Bruce Westerman, who led our tour!
Thank you to South Central Arkansas Electric for taking me, and thank you to the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas for taking all of these other students on this Washington, D.C, trip! I had so much fun! My favorite part of this whole trip was just getting to know everyone and making more friends!
By Carrington Thompson
Humphrey, First Electric
This Wednesday morning begins with a drive to the White House. Well-kept with freshly cut green grass, the White House was remarkable to see. We got a tour of Howard University, and our bus driver told us the history of the campus. I enjoyed this very much; for me it was interesting because that is one of my colleges of interest. I really do appreciate the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas for showing us so we could get that experience. The Library of Congress was very breathtaking, from the painted art on the walls to the balcony overview of the library where lines and rows of books were kept.
My favorite part of the day was when we came back to the U.S. Capitol for the second time to meet with members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation: Rep. French Hill, Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Bruce Westerman and Sen. John Boozman. To see these four men was amazing, because it’s not every day you meet politicians who play a role in our country. Our group got the chance to introduce ourselves, take a few pictures and call the Hogs! After departing the Capitol, we made our way over to Union Station to get food and do some shopping. It was great to see the amount of people that use the station to this day, considering it was built in 1907.
We were able to get plenty of souvenirs to bring home and try some pretty tasty food. Our next trip was to the Baltimore Orioles baseball game. I was so glad I got the chance to go because it meant a lot to go to my third baseball game ever. I can truly say we had a great time and had great stories to tell! After seeing Ford’s Theater, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, we headed back to our hotel and called it a night so we could get ready for our next day back home to Arkansas.
By Alayna Hope Turner
Mansfield, Arkansas Valley Electric
This very early Thursday morning was different than the rest had been. True, we still got up around 5 a.m. with sleepy faces, but there were also some sad ones. Most tried to ignore the fact that today was indeed the last day in our beloved new home, Washington, D.C. We all gathered on our tour bus for the very last time with our incredible bus driver. We drove through the streets we once looked at with new eyes, but this time we looked out the window as if we were leaving our homes. We would soon arrive at the Reagan airport, where we would check in and get some breakfast, (or an energy drink, in the case of my friend, Chelsey, and me). We got on the plane sitting with our group of friends, and we weren’t worried one bit about how long the flight would be. Because for us, an almost two-hour flight still wasn’t enough time.
We arrived in St. Louis sooner than we all hoped, but we were grateful for the one-hour delay and extra time to spend together. Most of us could have stayed in that airport for five hours and wouldn’t have cared one bit. But our flight was ready for us to go back to Little Rock, and we hesitantly boarded our last plane as a group. It was a very short, 40-minute flight back home, and as we took off, it really started to feel real. We arrived back in our true home, the place we all love and went to represent. We wrapped our arms around each other and walked sided by side one last time. We saw our families and knew it was time to say goodbye. Some tears were shed but for all the right reasons. Final goodbyes and last group pictures were snapped.
We all asked ourselves the same question: “What was our favorite thing about our trip?” All of us could say understanding the incredible history of our nation, learning the price of our freedom firsthand and seeing the true sacrifice made by our brothers and sisters. We all gained so much knowledge. But we also gained each other. “It really has been fun seeing the history that formed the country we live in today. It’s bittersweet leaving these amazing people. It makes me glad I decided to come,” said Ian Butler of Bearden (Ouachita Electric Cooperative).
I speak for us all when I say applying for and participating in Youth Tour was one of the best decisions I will ever make. I went in with a group of strangers and came out with a family. Thank you so much Washington, D.C., Youth Tour, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, and especially a big thank-you to our chaperones, director and all the people who made this trip possible. We love you, Arkansas Youth Tour 2022 and D.C.!