Imagine a chance to visit our nation’s capital for one week, meet with hundreds of students from across the United States, and visit with Florida’s senators and congressional representatives.
Two local students were selected to experience this once-in-a-lifetime trip in June as representatives of Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative: Jazmira Guzman of Bay High School and Jonah Swigart of Wewahitchka High School.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the past two years, we have been unable to send high school students to Washington for the Rural Electric Youth Tour,” says GCEC CEO/General Manager John Bartley. “I am pleased to announce that this year, we were able to continue the more-than-50-year tradition of recognizing great students.”
The program is a reflection of the strong commitment electric co-ops have to the communities and member-owners they serve.
The Youth Tour was jam-packed with sightseeing, bringing history to life. Among the stops, students visited the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Cathedral and Capitol Hill, where they met with Florida’s senators and congressmen.
The trip was a chance for students to gain a personal understanding of American history and their role as citizens.
But Youth Tour is much more than sightseeing. Students spend every waking minute together for a solid week. It is not uncommon for lasting friendships to form— and Youth Tour inspires many students to discover who they want to be.
“Youth Day is really something to see,” says Alisia Hounshell, director of communications and statewide services at the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association. “Every year, we see a new group of students, but one thing is constant: the energy. These students are excited to be a part of this tour, and it shows.”
The Origins of Youth Tour
Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas inspired the Washington Youth Tour when he addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. He declared, “If one thing goes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”
In 1958, rural electric cooperatives in Iowa sponsored the first group of 34 young people on a weeklong study tour of the nation’s capital. Later that same year, another busload came to Washington from Illinois. The idea grew, and other states sent busloads of young people throughout the summer. By 1959, Youth Tour had grown to 130 youths.
In 1964, NRECA began coordinating the program and suggested co-op representatives from each state arrange to be in Washington, D.C., during a specified Youth Tour week. The first year of the coordinated tour included approximately 400 young people from 12 states. The idea has continued to grow. Today, more than 1,200 young people and chaperones participate in Youth Tour every year.
Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative established its Youth Tour program in 1978.