In early 1957, NRECA’s Annual Meeting was off to a strong start in Chicago, and invited speaker, U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D: TX) addressed the crowd with a novel idea:
Rural teens should have the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C. and see their government in action – And America’s rural electric cooperatives are the perfect organizations to facilitate this!
“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.”– Lyndon B. Johnson
That summer, a few Texas electric cooperatives sent teens from their service areas to Washington, D.C. to work for the then-Senator Johnson.
The following summer, in 1958, Iowa’s rural electric cooperatives sponsored 34 delegates for a week-long tour of Washington, D.C. Later that same summer, Illinois followed suit and brought their own busload of rural youth to our nation’s capital.
The success of these first trips garnered national attention and in 1964, NRECA began to coordinate activities among state delegations and assist with Capitol Hill visits. That year, about 400 teens from 12 different states got to tour monuments, visit museums, and speak with their elected officials – all on behalf of America’s Electric Cooperatives!
Youth Tour has grown bigger and stronger in the 60+ years since Iowa made that first long bus trip across the country.
2017 was the first year NRECA’s annual Youth Day program had to be offered in two identical sessions to accommodate the 1,700+ delegates and 200+ chaperones. And the program continued to grow!
When the 2,000 delegates and staff from 44 states descend on Washington, D.C. each June, they bring an energy like no other to our capital city. Regardless of their political parties, elected officials know our Youth Tour delegates!– Beth Knudson, Youth Programs & Training Manager, NRECA
Youth Tour 2020 and our upcoming 2021 programs look quite different. For the first time since 1964, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is not possible to hold Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. Instead, NRECA and electric co-ops across the country shifted their focus to robust and engaging online programming.
While there is certainly a void in Washington, D.C. without our Youth Tour delegates, we continue the tradition of encouraging rural advocacy and bridging the gaps between our youngest members and our elected officials.