In this month’s cover story, All-American May 2023 Cover Story, you’ll meet — and be inspired by — Rukaya Alrubaye of Fayetteville, the second Arkansan selected as national youth spokesperson for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
But first, let’s check in with the initial NRECA youth spokesperson from Arkansas, Samantha Evans.
In 2002, Evans, from Toad Suck in Perry County, applied to attend Youth Tour — an educational trip to Washington, D.C. — at the urging of a beloved neighbor who worked for First Electric Cooperative. She was selected to represent the co-op.
Evans says, “That was the first time I had been to D.C. That was the first time I had been out of state without my parents. That was the first time that I rode on an airplane. There’s many firsts.”
She would soon have more plane rides in her future, as she was selected as the Arkansas Youth Leadership Council delegate and the NRECA national youth spokesperson. For 17-year-old Evans, writing and presenting a speech before thousands at a national conference in Nashville, Tennessee, was daunting enough, but then trauma struck.
Months before her speech, “I had a car accident, a major car accident, where I was hit head-on. I broke my hip, my femur, my right arm and several ribs,” Evans says.
Working with doctors and physical therapists, she relearned how to walk, using her NRECA speech as motivation during recovery.
Evans says she was moved by encouraging cooperative cheerleaders: “Everyone sent flowers and get-well wishes. The rural electric network is just powerful. I will never forget that.”
She will also never forget the speech experience. “Imagine a little girl from Toad Suck, Arkansas, with broken limbs coming in, talking (before) this huge group. You know, I could fit probably 20 of my towns in that place.”
With help rehearsing and refining her presentation, Evans says she made it through, recalling, “It was a really great moment.”
Evans interned for First Electric and graduated from Bigelow High School, Spelman College and the University of Minnesota. She worked for the City of North Little Rock, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.
Today, Evans, mom to 14-year-old Jeremiah, lives in Conway and has worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis since 2018.
Her position — senior community development advisor — has allowed the former Youth Tour star to come full circle.
She says, “My primary focus here is really on rural and economic development. So, go figure, right? I’m excited that I get to contribute back to the communities that I grew up in and that I still love and cherish through the work that I’m doing now.”