Youth Programs

Washington Youth Tour

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has brought high school students to Washington, D.C. for a week in June every year since the late 1950s. Students apply and are selected for this program by their local electric cooperative. Electric cooperatives believe that students should see their nation’s capital up close, learn about the political process and interact with their elected officials.

Students gain a personal understanding of American history and their role as a citizen by meeting their Representative and Senators. While student groups are organized at the state level, they all come together for Youth Day, where they get to meet each other and hear featured speakers who provide insight to the important roles electric cooperatives play in their communities.

Nearly 50,000 students from rural areas and small towns across America have participated in this program. Some of our Youth Tour alumni have gone on to design airplanes, to lead companies and to serve in the highest ranks of our government, including the U.S. Senate. Don’t be surprised if you run into a former Youth Tour participant who is a congressional aide on Capitol Hill. While several of our alumni work in Washington, you will find even more alumni in your own community.

If you want to be part of this fun (free!) week in Washington, please contact your local electric cooperative for additional information. You can look up your contact’s information here.

Origins and History

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 comes 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.”

Consequently, some Texas electric cooperatives sent groups of young people to Washington to work during the summer in Senator Johnson’s office. In 1958, a rural electric cooperative in Iowa sponsored the first group of 34 young people on a week-long study tour of our nation’s capital. Later that same year, another busload came to Washington from Illinois. The idea grew and other states sent busloads of young people throughout the summer. By 1959, the “Youth Tour” had grown to 130 students.

In 1964, NRECA began to coordinate joint activities among the state delegations and suggested that co-op representatives from each state arrange to be in Washington, D.C., during Youth Tour week. The first year of the coordinated Tour included approximately 400 young people from 12 states. Word of the program has continued to spread and today, more than 1,500 students and over 250 chaperones participate in the Youth Tour every year.

Youth Tour directors from each state association arrange their delegation’s visits to their U.S. representatives’ and senators’ offices, federal agencies and other educational and sightseeing activities. In addition to the planned statewide activities, the Youth Tour experience encompasses multi-state activities coordinated by NRECA.

The Washington Youth Tour is scheduled for June 17-22, 2023.

R.D. Bennett Community Service Scholarship

The R.D. Bennett Community Service Scholarship is named for Robert D. Bennett, the first general manager and executive vice president of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Inc. Mr. Bennett, who led the state association from 1950 until his retirement in 1980, strongly believed that electric cooperatives should support their local communities—providing a better quality of life for their members. His spirit of community service is reflected in this scholarship opportunity.

The scholarship is awarded to a high school senior who previously participated in the Washington Youth Tour—a six-day trip to our nation’s capital sponsored by the state’s electric co-ops. As part of the summer experience, students are encouraged to create and implement a community service project in their local communities. The project determined to have the largest community impact is awarded a $5,000 scholarship.


Cooperative Youth Summit & Podcast Competition

Created in 2017, the Cooperative Youth Summit is for rising high school juniors and seniors. Students travel to South Carolina’s capital for a week to learn about electric cooperatives and how co-ops work with state government to ensure South Carolinians have affordable, reliable and responsibly produced electricity.  The trip also includes a visit to Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens, meetings with state government leaders, the opportunity to explore careers at a distribution cooperative and take rides in all-electric vehicles—all while competing for a $5,000 scholarship.

Students are divided into groups of 3-4, where they craft podcasts based on a central theme. The podcasts are judged by a panel of award winning journalists. Past judges include Kenneth Moton of ABC News and Dawndy Mercer Plank of WIS News. Each member of the winning group receives $5,000 in recognition of their accomplishment.

If you want to be part of this fun (free!) week in Columbia, please contact your local electric cooperative for additional information. You can look up your contact’s information here.

The Cooperative Youth Summit is scheduled for July 10-13, 2023.