After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, high schoolers headed back to Washington, D.C. for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) Electric Cooperative Youth Tour. The return also marked one major change. The hundreds of Youth Tour delegates and chaperones attended in two separate groups over a 10-day period to minimize crowding: June 14-19 and June 19-24.

This year’s overall group was smaller than in previous years for pandemic-related and budget reasons, said Beth Knudson, NRECA’s youth programs and training manager. Co-ops in 28 states participated, compared to 44 states in typical years.

“We’re excited to welcome these young leaders back to D.C., after our absence,” said Knudson. “We had our usual programming and activities—they were just modified to accommodate the new group sizes and timelines.”

The Illinois group attended the second week of the event with 36 students representing 16 electric and telephone co-ops. Before the pandemic, Illinois usually sent about twice that amount.

The formal Youth Day program returned this year but took place three times—twice on June 18 and once on June 20. Presenters included NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, NRECA President Chris Christensen and inspirational speaker Mike Schlappi, a wheelchair basketball player who has appeared in four consecutive summer Paralympic Games.

“The impact that Youth Tour can have on young people goes far beyond it being ‘just a trip,’” said Ashley Graham, vice president of member services at the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives and tour organizer of the Illinois delegation. “Many participants in the past have described Youth Tour as life changing, and we are thrilled to be able to help these students learn more about public policy, history, leadership and cooperatives.”