In 1965, fourteen high school juniors loaded left Nashville for Washington, DC. The purpose of the trip was twofold – to educate them about rural electrification and how their government operates.

Fifty years later, Tennessee’s Washington Youth Tour program is still going strong. This year, we will send 150 students and 40 chaperones on the Tour. More than any other state!

For some of these students, the trip marks a number of firsts; their first trip out of state, their first time on a plane, and their first visit to our Nation’s capital. They are given the opportunity to see a larger perspective on their world and their future.

The trip lasts a week; the impact lasts a lifetime. For many students, the trip will begin a journey that charts the rest of their lives. Past participants have become CEOs, educators, and legislators.

This past year, two students from Southwest Tennessee Electric will continue to make an impact in their communities and far beyond.

Kai Starmer, from Munford High School, has been accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Josh Owen, from Covington High School, has been accepted into the Citadel Military College in South Carolina.

Marilyn Means, marketing coordinator at Southwest Tennessee Electric, said it best:

“We should be very proud of these two students who represented STEMC in DC this past June. Despite of all the ‘bad’ we hear about the youth of today, I have had the opportunity to witness exceptional youth as I go into our schools and share the cooperative story and to appreciate their leadership abilities as we travel to DC each year. I have been blessed to see students grow in leadership roles during and after our trip. I am so thankful that STEMC allows me to ‘pay it forward’ to the youth in our service area. It makes me proud to work for the electric cooperative.”

Hairstyles and fashion may have changed a lot since 1965. The commitment of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives to our youth and our communities has only grown stronger.

By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Several things about the holiday season bring out the best in all of us. This time of year, we enjoy the familiar sound of the Salvation Army’s bell-ringers. Food banks and homeless shelters see a rush of volunteers, and clothing donations hit a high point during Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

It occurs almost without prompting. There is just something about a “season of giving” that brings it out of us. Giving of yourself — your time, money or other resources — is commonplace during this time.

What if that feeling lasted all year long? It’s great that we do it in December. But what if we did it year-round?

There is a group of people in your community that does just that throughout the year. What they do is not tied to a season. It’s written into their DNA.

Electric cooperatives are different. That’s not a slogan; it’s a fact. Nonprofit. Owned and managed by the owners. More than that, we operate our co-ops by a set of sacred principles. Cooperative Principle No. 7 reads, “While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.”

Principles don’t mean much unless they’re put into action. Cooperatives across the nation and in our own state do that every day.

A great example of showing concern for your community is Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. In 2007, the Florida co-op took over the economically depressed area of Lacoochee. Some parts of the rural community even lacked indoor plumbing. The investor-owned electric system was decrepit. Today, new Habitat for Humanity homes are rising, dirt roads are paved, the electric grid is dependable and a 16,000-square-foot community center houses a gym, health clinic and computer center.

It took a mix of private and public funding and a host of volunteers, but Lacoochee’s turnaround didn’t happen until the employees and member-owners of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative put their principles to work in improving the lives of the people in the community.

Perhaps not as dramatically, but this happens every day throughout Tennessee. Electric cooperatives take action in their communities by sponsoring Relay for Life teams, building Habitat for Humanity homes and providing volunteers and funds for social-service organizations. It’s not profit-driven — it’s just what we do. Powering our communities means so much more than keeping the lights on.

It’s not limited to what your cooperative does for you. Each of us can donate our time and talents to help others in our community. Many of you already participate through “round-up” programs at your cooperatives. These foundations have provided millions of dollars to those in need across our service areas. It’s not difficult to take the next step.

Here’s a challenge for you: Don’t volunteer for the food bank only in December. Do it in the spring or summer, too. Don’t just drop off clothing for a year-end tax break. Do it in the fall when needy children go back to school.

Concern for community: Make it an everyday thing.