NASHVILLE – Nearly 140 high school seniors from across Tennessee are back home following the 2017 Washington Youth Tour.

The week long event included sightseeing, visits with elected officials and lots of fun meeting peers from across Tennessee and the nation. Delegates earned their spots on the Youth Tour for writing winning short stories titled “Electric Cooperatives: Going Beyond the Wires.” In their winning entries, the talented young writers described how member-owned, nonprofit electric co-ops strengthen their local communities and improve lives across their service areas while providing safe, reliable, affordable energy.

“We take great pride in recognizing the best and brightest from across the state,” said Todd Blocker, director of member relations for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and tour director. “By recognizing their accomplishments through programs like the Washington Youth Tour, we show these leaders of tomorrow that their hometown electric co-op is more than a utility provider; these students are active members of their community and fully invested in its prosperity.”

For more than 50 years, the Washington Youth Tour has taken students from electric co-op service areas to our nation’s capital to learn more about our country and the cooperative business model. The annual event is coordinated by local electric cooperatives, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). This year’s Youth Tour involved 1,700 students from 43 states.

“You bring a voice that wants to engage with people and talk about your community and what matters to you,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “It’s up to all of us to support it, nurture it, hold it accountable and make it work. That’s the approach of NRECA, and that’s the approach you will help us pursue.”

On their 2017 visit, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegates saw the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean Wars. During visits to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the touring Tennesseans saw and experienced natural, historical and artistic treasures. Other fun stops included historic homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — as well as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a boat cruise down the Potomac River. Among other Youth Tour highlights were a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The group was welcomed to the U.S. Capitol by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and members of the Tennessee congressional delegation who posed for photos and answered questions.

Destinee Gilchrist from Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative, Taya Lewis from Caney Fork Electric Cooperative and Hope Newell from Gibson Electric Membership Corporation were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 Robert McCarty Memorial Scholarships for having the first-, second- and third-place short stories of the more than 10,000 papers submitted across the state. McCarty was an employee of Volunteer Energy Cooperative and long time chaperone on the annual Youth Tour. McCarty lost a battle with cancer in 2015, and sponsoring cooperatives renamed the scholarships in honor of his love for young people.

Candace Hargrave, of Franklin County, a recent graduate of Huntland High School, was awarded a $10,000 Cooperative Youth Ambassador Scholarship. Hargrave was a 2016 delegate for Duck River Electric Membership Corporation on the Washington Youth Tour. In the year following the tour, delegates who remain engaged with their sponsoring cooperatives and complete certain community service requirements are eligible for the scholarship. Hargrave’s name was randomly selected from among the 100 delegates from across the state who completed the requirements.

“It’s more than just a talking point,” said David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “Electric co-ops genuinely care about the prosperity of the communities we serve. The Washington Youth Tour is a small but important way for us to show these exceptional students that rural Tennessee matters. We want them to be passionate about their communities and prepared to lead when those opportunities come along.”

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