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Electric Cooperative Washington Youth Tour

The Washington Youth Tour 2015

Investing in America’s Future for 50 Years
Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2015 tour participants

"Send youngsters to the nation’s capital, where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents,” said U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. Electric cooperatives across the country accepted that challenge and have been sending students to Washington, D.C., ever since. In fact, 1,700 exceptional students from all over the United States descended upon the nation’s capital in 2015 to take part in the Washington Youth Tour (WYT).

Georgia’s electric cooperatives sent 111 delegates on the 2015 WYT (only Tennessee and Texas sent more), which was held from June 11-18. The Youth Tour, Georgia’s oldest leadership program for teens, celebrated 50 years of investing in the future leaders of our country.

In 1965, the inaugural year of Georgia’s involvement in the WYT, a dozen students participated in the trip. Since then, more than 3,000 teens have been sponsored by EMCs in Georgia and given the opportunity to experience this prestigious leadership event.

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) has had the privilege of sponsoring local students on the Youth Tour since 1985, when we sent our first two delegates. Freya Ledford, from Union County, and Stephen Roach, from Clay County, represented our co-op that year. Since that time, the WYT has continued to grow in size and stature. Each year, students return from the weeklong tour to share stories of the trip’s impact on their life.

Our 2015 delegates—Madeline Walker, from Union County, Ga.; Shea Underwood, from Towns County, Ga.; and Collin Worley, from Clay County, N.C.—took advantage of every minute as they navigated through the seven-day adventure.

Unlike a school or church youth group trip, where most of the young people are acquainted with one another, the Youth Tour knits together 111 delegates who have never met before. Walker says, “I was so amazed, not only at all the history and monuments that were around me, but at all the different people who were around me. Although many of us came from such different backgrounds and families, it didn’t matter; we all made incredible bonds and friendships.”

The WYT is a leadership experience designed to expose delegates to lessons they can use throughout their lives. “The trip taught me the importance of being on time, the value of being open, the usefulness of a good demeanor and the impact words can have on people,” says Underwood. “The tour helped me realize just how significant one person can be in the history of a nation.”

The one word Worley uses to describe the Washington Youth Tour is “indescribable.” He says, “The experiences, laughs and tears I shared among new, lifelong friends are indescribable. The opportunities I had and will continue to have as a result of the Youth Tour are indescribable. The newfound respect for others and our country are indescribable. If I could relive this experience 100 times, I’m sure each time I would learn something new about our country, others and leadership.”

Our country has experienced many changes during the past 50 years. As a result, understanding what the flag stands for and represents is more important than ever.

BRMEMC is proud to participate in a trip that provides this opportunity to our future leaders.

Timeless Leadership Lessons and Treasured Friendships

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2014 participants

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) is fortunate to have the opportunity each year to send three local students on the Washington Youth Tour (WYT). The tremendous leadership program, sponsored by Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year and continues to transform young people’s lives.

BRMEMC’s 2014 delegates—Andrew Burch, Danielle Diehl and Rachel Todd—made the most of every moment during the weeklong adventure.

The 2014 tour brought the largest Georgia group ever—109 students and 16 chaperones journeyed to Atlanta from throughout the state to attend the kickoff banquet and begin the week of life-changing opportunities. The banquet was emceed by FOX 5 Atlanta’s Beth Galvin, the station’s medical team reporter and a WYT alumna.

State Rep. Brooks Coleman served as keynote speaker, a role he has played for more than two decades. Coleman, 75, is chairman of the Georgia House Education Committee, and his heart for young people is evident by the enthusiasm and passion he displays each year when he speaks to the students.

Before flying to Washington, D.C., the group toured President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga. During FDR’s frequent visits to Warm Springs, he became acquainted with the plight of rural Georgians living without electricity. As a result, he determined to make electricity available to all Americans by establishing the Rural Electrification Administration Act, which was signed at the Little White House.

Once in Washington, the WYT delegates are immersed in the history and culture of the nation’s capital. A nonstop schedule is designed to teach them lessons not duplicated in any classroom.

Highlights of the tour include stops at Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK, WWII, Vietnam Veterans and Korean War memorials. The group also toured the U.S. Capitol, viewed the Declaration of Independence and visited the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and Smithsonian museums.

In addition to the monuments, museums and visits with members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, our students are always positively affected by the weeklong exposure to such a gifted group of fellow delegates. Because the group is composed of students from various walks of life, they learn to appreciate diverse points of view and accept different social, racial and cultural backgrounds.

Delegate Rachel Todd, a Union County High School student, says, “The caliber of students alongside me throughout the week constantly amazed me. The invigorating conversations I had with other delegates added a whole new level to the trip. It’s so refreshing and reassuring to know that there are other teens my age who do work hard and dream big.”

Remember, the students show up for this trip not knowing one another, which makes the transformation from complete stranger to treasured friend quite remarkable, as Hayesville High delegate Andrew Burch can attest. “The trip forced me out of my comfort zone and helped improve my social skills as a result of placing me in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by a large group of people I had never met,” he says. “After only one week of interacting with this incredible group of my peers, I had formed relationships that may last a lifetime.”

Ultimately, the goal of the tour is to impart lifechanging leadership qualities into each of the students’ lives. Towns County delegate Danielle Diehl shared a personal insight that highlights the tour experience. “Meeting these amazing young people who are talented in such a wide variety of areas that I know nothing about, I realized something about leadership,” she says. “Even though I pride myself on being a good leader, I discovered that I can’t be the best at everything. And, if I meet someone who is better than me at something, it’s important to let them lead.

“Leadership isn’t about always being in control. It’s about letting the person most capable lead and assisting them in any way possible because I won’t always be the most capable person.”

Now there is a lesson that all our leaders in Washington, D.C., could benefit from learning.

Washington Youth Tour 2013

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2013 participants

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) has sent wonderful local students on the Washington Youth Tour (WYT) for more than 30 years. The tremendous leadership program, sponsored by Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives, is a trip that continues to transform young people’s lives.

In 2013, 106 students and 14 chaperones had the good fortune to experience firsthand a week in Washington, D.C., that cannot be duplicated. Its uniqueness stems from the cast of characters assembled each year to participate in the trip. This group of talented and ambitious young people comes from diverse backgrounds, with a wide variety of interests.

Although much of what the students are exposed to in the nation’s capital is the same each year, the experience is always different, filled with new energy and excitement. I have had the opportunity to serve as a chaperone on the trip several times, and I can testify to this fact.

Each tour ushers in another group of potential future leaders, and it is with great anticipation that I observe their reaction to the trip as it consumes them. Students are introduced face to face to the price of freedom with somber stops at Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum. They walk on the porch at Mount Vernon, where George Washington and many of our Revolutionary War heroes spent time together. They experience the majesty of the memorials, the priceless possessions found in the museum exhibits and the picturesque cruise down the Potomac River, which all leave their imprint on the students’ lives.

Watching the students begin to imagine a future for themselves that was unthinkable before the trip is by far the most rewarding aspect of the Washington Youth Tour. It happens every year with each group, as they are awakened and encouraged to live up to their full potential.

During the 30 years BRMEMC has been sending students on the Youth Tour, the monuments, museums and sights have changed very little. However, it is interesting to consider all the changes that have occurred with technology, transportation and communication during that time. Washington, D.C., is still graced by the same sights, but it is a different world the students live in today.

Our delegates—Savannah Beck, Courtney Marshall and Kariela Cruz—all noted the excitement of meeting so many outstanding students on the trip, not only from Georgia but also from all across the country. “Everyone had so much in common it was easy to make friends,” says Savannah.

“I loved taking the time to visit Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., and see where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ ” says Savannah.

All three delegates were deeply moved by the Holocaust Memorial Museum. “I thought I understood how horrible the event was, but being in the museum opened my eyes to so much more,” says Courtney. “For me, seeing some of the actual items that were present, like luggage and shoes of those held in the concentration camps, was heartbreaking.”

Kariela was impressed with Arlington National Cemetery. “From photos, you know the cemetery is very big,” she says. “But until you are actually in the middle of it, you can’t comprehend the size, and it’s breathtaking. However, it’s not only the size of the cemetery and the scenic beauty but the stories accompanying those buried at this sacred location that make it fascinating.”

In fact, the trip itself is hard to fully grasp for students until they are in the midst of it. Once there, they are surrounded by situations and circumstances challenging them to move out of their comfort zone. As a result, our BRMEMC students always return home with an inspiring new story to tell.

Washington Youth Tour 2012

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2012 participants

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC has always provided enthusiastic support for our local youth. Through the years, we have helped a variety of worthwhile programs, but none has produced greater dividends than the Washington Youth Tour.

This year, Chelsi George of Union County, Ga., Ryan Tallent of Towns County, Ga., and Nicole Lavender of Clay County, N.C., are recipients of the weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip sponsored by the electric membership corporations (EMCs) in Georgia. Our high school counselors do an excellent job administering the selection process for us and always provide the co-op with outstanding students.

Our delegates will be among more than 100 Georgia students on the unique leadership event set for June 14-21, with stops in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. As Georgia’s oldest leadership program for teens, the tour is designed to teach high school students about U.S. history, government and careers in public service.

Students experience an up-close view of our country’s history that includes personal visits to the Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga., and meetings with Georgia’s representatives in the U.S. House and Senate. While in the nation’s capital, delegates will also participate in National Youth Day and visit a number of treasured monuments and memorials.

To highlight the importance of leadership and service to young adults, the Youth Tour was inspired by former President Lyndon Johnson who, as a U.S. senator in 1957, encouraged electric cooperatives “to send youngsters to the nation’s capital, where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”

Our delegates always return with an increased passion for service to their country and communities.

Washington Youth Tour 2011

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2011 participants

That’s how Towns County High School delegate Kristie McConnell described her seven-day experience on the Washington Youth Tour this year. It’s always pleasing to hear such descriptions, but it is not surprising; the trip is designed to be nothing less than the week of a lifetime for the students.

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is thrilled each year to participate in this tremendous leadership program, sponsored by Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives. In June, BRMEMC’s delegates— Morgan Smith, Hannah Mott, Amy Butterworth and Kristie McConnell—were among 104 of Georgia’s brightest high school students sent on this unique journey. By the end of the trip, held June 9-16, students’ lives have been transformed. The trip gives them confidence, broadens their horizons and helps them see the opportunities available to them. It also provides them a network of successful young people for life.

I have had the wonderful opportunity of witnessing firsthand the lasting impression the Youth Tour leaves on the delegates. It teaches students about U.S. history, government and careers in public service. The primary purpose of the tour is to teach students the values electric cooperatives bring to the communities they serve, promote civic involvement, enlighten youth on today’s pressing energy issues and provide a personal view of the nation’s rich heritage.

Each BRMEMC delegate expressed her appreciation for having the opportunity to spend the week with such an amazing collection of peers. “It was important to meet as many people as you could because you may never get a chance like this again,” Amy said.

“Touring all the museums and meeting our senators and congressmen was such an eye-opening experience,” Hannah said. “I will never forget this trip and the impact it has left on me.”

Kristie reflected on the opportunity the trip presented to her. “Not only did I get to look down over the clouds from an airplane window for the first time, but I also was able to see more than my small town which I have always known.”

“The trip was amazing in every way,” Morgan said. “It was a true life-changing experience to see how everyone thrived while learning about the history of our country.”

Each year, a diverse group of high-achieving students attend the Washington Youth Tour, and each year they return with their aspirations raised even higher. Their ambition to make a positive difference always provides me with hope for our country’s future.

Washington Youth Tour 2010

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2010 participants

Blue Ridge Mountain EMC is grateful each year to participate in the Washington Youth Tour (WYT), a tremendous leadership program sponsored by Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives. In June, BRMEMC delegates Corey Fischer, Nora Sutton and Tara Wickersham were among 99 of Georgia’s brightest high school students sent on the one-of-a-kind tour.

At the end of the trip, the Youth Tour delegates returned home with a beyond-the-classroom look at the nation’s capital, a better understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices made by others, and dozens of new friends who shared the experience of the leadership program.

I have previously had the privilege to serve as a chaperone on two separate occasions and witnessed firsthand what a wonderful difference one week on the tour can make in a young person’s life.

The Youth Tour teaches students about U.S. history, government and careers in public service. Its primary purpose is to teach students the values electric cooperatives bring to the communities they serve and to promote civic involvement.

Each delegate expressed how an entire week passed in the blink of an eye. Nora described it this way: “The biggest surprise was how time seemed to stand still, yet fly by at the same time. Each night, we had a hard time remembering just what all we had done that day, but before I knew it, Thursday arrived and it was time to go home.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a moving experience for Tara. “The building dripped with tragic emotion and rich history,” she said. “As I tried to imagine and empathize with the victims that were witnesses to the horror of Hitler, I came across an especially startling sight. Stuck between several appalled faces I observed a completely helpless child, standing naked as a scientist preps the child for experimentation. It was quite a humbling moment.”

“I really enjoyed every aspect of the trip,” Corey said. “The people were the most amazing part of the trip. There is just something special about spending 24 hours a day with 100 strangers that makes you feel like part of a family. The dance on the Sunset Cruise was my favorite event, just like a prom with all my new friends.”

The Washington Youth Tour is a wonderful week well spent.

Washington Youth Tour 2009

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2009 participants

For more than 25 years Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) has been privileged to sponsor local area students on a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip known as the Washington Youth Tour (WYT). The trip is much more than just a tour; it is the oldest youth leadership program in Georgia.

Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson inspired the Youth Tour when he addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. The Senator and future president 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.” Since 1964, the nation’s EMC’s have sponsored almost 40,000 high school students on the tour.

This year, 103 high school students from across the state represented electric cooperatives on the unique youth tour experience. Delegates learn about the electric cooperative movement, American history and how government works. They meet with their representatives in the House and Senate, participate in National Youth Day and enjoy the sights of D.C.

They visit national monuments such as the Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR memorials, where they can consider the words of leaders who helped define and uphold our nation’s guiding principles. At the Smithsonian Institution, they discover and explore art, science, nature and America’s culture and history. And at the World War II, Korean War Veterans and Vietnam Veterans memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery, they learn the true price of freedom.

Three outstanding students, Blake Cox, Sierra Harrison, and Tommy Black represented BRMEMC, their communities, and their schools in a first class manner on the tour.

The hope of the tour is to make a difference in a young person's life, instilling in them a desire to make a difference in their community and country.

Each year we enlist the help of high school counselors with the delegate selection process. They are responsible for selecting a qualified student to participate on the tour. One high school junior is selected from Union County, Towns County and Hayesville High School to go on the trip.

We are proud to be associated with a trip of this caliber. With great anticipation we look forward each year to providing deserving local students this chance of a lifetime to be a delegate on the Washington Youth Tour.

If you still have questions about the Washington Youth Tour please contact Byron McCombs for further information. (706) 379-3121 ext 305

Washington Youth Tour 2008

Story, photos by Byron McCombs
  • 2008 participants

For more than 25 years Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) has been privileged to sponsor local area students on a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip known as the Washington Youth Tour (WYT). The trip is much more than just a tour; it is the oldest youth leadership program in Georgia.

Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson inspired the Youth Tour when he addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. The Senator and future president 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.” Since 1964, the nation’s EMC’s have sponsored almost 40,000 high school students on the tour.

This year, 105 high school students from across the state represented electric cooperatives on the unique youth tour experience. Delegates learn about the electric cooperative movement, American history and how government works. They meet with their representatives in the House and Senate, participate in National Youth Day and enjoy the sights of D.C.

They visit national monuments such as the Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR memorials, where they can consider the words of leaders who helped define and uphold our nation’s guiding principles. At the Smithsonian Institution, they discover and explore art, science, nature and America’s culture and history. And at the World War II, Korean War Veterans and Vietnam Veterans memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery, they learn the true price of freedom.

Three outstanding students, Amber Allen, Emily Bell and Kelli O'Connor represented BRMEMC, their communities, and their schools in a first class manner on the tour. “This trip was honestly the best thing I have ever been a part of. I had a blast and am jealous of the kids that get to go next year. ,” says Kelli O'Connor.

Amber says, "There was no one favorite part of the trip because it was all amazing. But, if I had to pick something, it would be the U.S. Marine Sunset Parade. Seeing that many soldiers in person made me feel so grateful for what they do for our country." Emily enjoyed the time spend at Toby's Dinner Theater, saying, "I love musicals, and 'All Shook Up' was hilarious! Plus, after a long day of walking, my tired feet were glad to rest."

"I was surprised how much we did in one day," Emily adds, saying, "I knew we had a busy schedule, but I had no idea how much we toured. It was awesome getting to do so much in just one week." Kelli notes, "The trip instilled more confidence in myself and gave me a deeper appreciation of our nation's history."

"For the first time, I realized we are the future of America," Amber comments, and adds, "after returning home, people close to me said I seemed like a different person in some aspects." That is the hope of the tour - to make a difference in a young person's life, instilling in them a desire to make a difference in their community and country.

Each year we enlist the help of high school counselors with the delegate selection process. They are responsible for selecting a qualified student to participate on the tour. One high school junior is selected from Union County, Towns County and Hayesville High School to go on the trip.

We are proud to be associated with a trip of this caliber. With great anticipation we look forward each year to providing deserving local students this chance of a lifetime to be a delegate on the Washington Youth Tour.

If you still have questions about the Washington Youth Tour please contact Byron McCombs for further information. (706) 379-3121 ext 305