Local students get Youth Tour experience

Published 6:31 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

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Gavin Fowler and Reagan Taylor, the students selected to represent Community Electric during the 2020 Youth Tour felt like fate had dealt them a bad hand. In addition to missing out on valuable social experiences, COVID-19 deprived them of the opportunity to experience Youth Tour, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Throughout 2021, Community Electric was concerned about whether it would be possible to provide any programs to this exceptional pair of teens. After COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in May, and the state of emergency subsided in many parts of the country, the Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives (VMDAEC) asked its members, which includes Community Electric Cooperative, if there was interest in a “Mini” Youth Tour experience. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

Community Electric Cooperative was thrilled to take part in a more localized Youth Tour this year, and extended the opportunity to their 2020 Youth Tour representatives.

Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, Reagan was not able to attend, leaving Gavin as the sole student to represent Community Electric Cooperative on the 2021 Youth Tour in Williamsburg from July 28-30. Students from other local cooperatives also attended, including Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Shenandoah Electric Cooperative, Choptank Electric Cooperative and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

Williamsburg was packing the heat, but with a full roster of educational and recreational activities, the students didn’t mind. The schedule included a walking tour of the re-created settlement of Jamestown, a sunset sailing adventure on the York River, a private tour of Colonial Williamsburg, visiting Busch Gardens, and an excursion to the Military Transportation Museum.

In addition to visiting these sites, the students also met with Delegate Jay Jones and Delegate Emily Brewer from Virginia in person, while Maryland Delegate Johnny Mautz, Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman met via Zoom call. The students were able to ask questions about their service, their experiences, and how they might poise themselves to be better advocates.

“It’s not a full substitute for Youth Tour, but we wanted to do something special for these students who were nominated by their co-ops,” says Andrew Vehorn, VMDAEC vice president of member and public affairs, who also serves as the Association’s Youth Tour director. He and many others across the U.S. remain hopeful for a return to a full tour in 2022.

The original Youth Tour program was created in 1958 by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association typically oversees the tour in the belief that co-op youths should experience the nation’s capital up close and learn about the political process. To keep the association involved in this smaller program, Beth Knudson, NRECA youth programs and training manager, spoke to the students before the delegates arrived. Educating them about Youth Tour, cooperatives, and the impact that they have on the world today.

“Youth Tour is an amazing program and opportunity. It is full of rich history with direct ties to the utility industry based in Washington, D.C., surrounded by decision makers,” said Steve Harmon, president and CEO of Community Electric Cooperative. “However, there are vital decision makers right here in our back yard. Allowing our students to experience North America’s historical origins in Williamsburg was an incredible way for us to expose our youth to the heart of this great nation and learn about the political process at a localized level where real change is started and possible.”

While there were a few tears shed as students said their goodbyes at the Military Transportation Museum, they knew that these friendships would last a lifetime.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad it was a smaller group of people. We were able to take everything in without a ton of distraction that the larger environment may have provided,” said Gavin Fowler. “Everything happens for a reason, and this was ultimately a great experience and I was able to make great friends. I am so thankful that Community Electric Cooperative didn’t give up on us and helped make this small Youth Tour experience a reality!”

“I have had the honor to chaperone students for a few Youth Tours now, and while the trip location was different, the essence of Youth Tour was not,” said Jessica Parr, manager of communications for Community Electric Cooperative. “All of the students were able to intensely participate, explore unique historic sites, make amazing new friends, and truly learn from each other on various levels. It amazes me to see how students take advantage of this unique opportunity to grow as individuals and as students.”

Reagan Taylor has been offered a slot to the 2022 Youth Tour. It is not evident at this time if it will be held by NRECA in Washington D.C. or by VMDAEC in a central location for participating cooperatives. Community Electric will be accepting applications Sept. 1, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022.

Are you looking for a resume builder? A leadership opportunity? How about the trip of a lifetime? Apply for the 2022 Youth Tour program by visiting https://www.comelec.coop/youth-tour.

Community Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Windsor, is a not-for-profit, member-owned energy provider that serves nearly 12,000 homes, farms and businesses in the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex and the City of Suffolk. For more information, go to www.comelec.coop.