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Illinois Country Living

51 Years of Youth To Washington

by Alexandra M. Newbern

Looking weary from a 20-hour bus ride, 66 of Illinois’ brightest high school students did not let exhaustion override their enthusiasm for the week’s previous events. As the students hugged and said their goodbyes next to the bus at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC), it was apparent they hoped to hold onto the newly formed friendships and certainly did not want their week in Washington, D.C. to end.

More than 1,500 high school students from electric cooperatives across the country participate in the Youth to Washington Tour every June.

According to Tour Director John Freitag, “The main purpose of the Youth to Washington Tour is to give young leaders an inside introduction to government and the cooperative business model.”

The Youth Tour is celebrating its 51st year and Freitag has been on 24 of those trips with the AIEC. “The Youth Tour is a great opportunity for electric co-ops to do something positive for young leaders in the rural communities. The program is something that has really had staying power,” said Freitag.

One student from each state is selected to be a representative on the Youth Leadership Council (YLC). To be chosen for the YLC, students must turn in a 500-word essay about leadership and an application, go through a selection committee and then must be voted on by a group of their peers. The YLC, simply put, is a selection of students who are the best of the best. Being part of the YLC will help the students to build public speaking and leadership skills. Steven Myers from Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative was chosen to represent Illinois on the Council for 2010.

“I felt very proud when I first learned I had been selected as the YLC Representative. I also feel a lot of pride knowing that I will be representing Illinois,” Myers said, “This trip has made me want to set my goals higher. I want to get involved with my government, co-op and community. It has opened my eyes to things other than small-town rural Illinois.”

Some of Myers’ duties will include attending the Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., the AIEC Annual Meeting in Springfield, the NRECA Annual Meeting in Florida, the Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperative Youth Day and providing input for the NRECA’s Youth Education and Leadership programs. The Youth Leadership Conference in July will help to prepare the selected students for the events and functions they will attend the rest of the year.

“Honestly, I did not really have an interest in government before the trip. I initially wanted to go on the Youth to Washington Tour because I had only been east of Illinois one time. I never had the chance to experience anything like Washington, D.C. and I thought it might be a good way to jumpstart my life,” said Myers.

Freitag said, “A high percentage of young people who go on this trip have an interest in government, but for some it is an introduction to government. Some of the students go on to work in state or federal government after school.” Some of the more notable past participants of the Youth to Washington Tour are Art Tenhouse who was a State Representative from 1989 to 2006 and Tom Ryder who served as an Illinois State Representative from 1983 to 2001.

For the students, one of the most exciting parts of the Youth to Washington Tour is the opportunity to meet with their Senators and Representatives. Kristin Banks, Tour Coordinator, said, “Many of the young people talk about how impressive it is that the Representatives and Senators are willing to take time out of their schedules to meet and speak with them.” Each student was able to meet and speak with their State Representative and both Illinois U.S. Senators.

Myers said, “It was really a fascinating and honorable experience to meet the people who represent me in Congress. I was very honored because not many people have the opportunity to meet a person who represents the voices of so many other people … This [the Youth to Washington Tour] was truly the experience of a lifetime. I just feel so thankful and in awe that I was able to be part of it.”

For more information about the Youth to Washington Tour contact 217-529-5561 and ask for John Freitag ( or Kristin Banks ( To see pictures from this year’s trip, search “Illinois Youth to Washington Tour” on Facebook or Google.



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