Last updated: July 10. 2014 1:31PM - 415 Views

L-R: James Franklin, Kelsie Key, Bethany Gearlds, Kayla Fleming, Paige Birdwell, and Tracy Roark.
L-R: James Franklin, Kelsie Key, Bethany Gearlds, Kayla Fleming, Paige Birdwell, and Tracy Roark.
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A record number of young people from electric cooperative service areas across the United States, including Tri-County Electric, experienced an in-depth look at our nation’s capital during the electric cooperative’s 2014 Washington Youth Tour.

Paige Birdwell, Clay County High School, Celina, Tennessee; Bethany Gearlds, Monroe County High School, Tompkinsville, Kentucky; Kelsie Key, Cumberland County High School, Burkesville, Kentucky; and Kayla Fleming, Red Boiling Springs High School, Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, were awarded the trip from Tri-County Electric for writing winning short stories on the topic “Electric Cooperative’s: Serving Our Members Past, Present and Future” describing how locally owned, member-controlled electric cooperatives continue improving lives in their service areas through special community-building programs as well as reliable and affordable electric service.

Because Paige Birdwell was the overall winner from Tri-County Electric’s service area her Clay County High School English teacher, Mr. James Franklin, was also awarded a trip to recognize his invaluable support of the co-op’s youth programs. This was Mr. Franklin’s fifth WYT trip for teaching the winning short story writer!

“Washington is an incredible place. I had the opportunity to meet my representatives and senators and see some absolutely remarkable things,” said Birdwell. “I appreciate Tri-County Electric for the opportunity to be a part of the youth tour.”

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is a joint effort of Tri-County Electric, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Each school year, Tri-County Electric sponsors a short story contest for high school juniors. Winners are awarded an expense-paid trip to our nation’s capital the following June as part of the Washington Youth Tour. This year’s trip ran June 13-19 and included meeting with elected officials, visits to Washington’s popular tourist stops and time to meet winners representing other co-ops. More than 1600 youth attended from co-ops nationwide-topping the number of any previous event. Tracy Roark, Marketing Assistant, served as Tri-County Electric’s representative and student chaperone on the trip. While the annual trip is held in June, Tracy’s preparation begins in the fall when she visits every high school in our service area to present information on the short story competition.

“Youth Tour is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job,” said Gregory. “These students not only tour Washington, D.C. and meet their elected representatives, they learn about their electric cooperative, while making new friends and learning leadership and communication skills that will benefit them throughout life.” In addition to serving as Tri-County Electric’s contact person, Tracy serves on the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Washington Youth Tour subcommittee.

Students on the tour visited the White House and memorials to past presidents, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. Strolls through the varied museums of the Smithsonian Institution afforded the students opportunities to learn more about science, history and art. Other fun stops included homes of former presidents – George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello – a performance of “The Lion King” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a boat tour down the Potomac River and tours of the Holocaust Museum and the Washington Cathedral. The Youth Tour also included a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

No trip to Washington, D.C. would be complete without a lesson or two in government and civics. The group was welcomed by Senators, Lamar Alexander & Bob Corker; and Congresswoman Diane Black spent some time with her constituents outside the Capitol and posed for photos.

The Tennessee and Kentucky Youth Tour delegations joined other trip winners from across the country for Youth Day on Monday, June 16, where they swapped stories of their Washington experience. They also listened to a presentation by Mike Schlappi, a four-time Paralympic medalist and two-time wheelchair basketball champion, who urged the young attendees, “Just because you can’t stand up doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.”

“Because we are owned by our members, it is so important that your members understand how that makes us different,” said Paul Thomson, Tri-County Electric V.P. and General Manager. “Our communities and our co-ops need strong leadership, and Youth Tour is one way we can help prepare students for the roles they may one day fill. The Youth Tour and similar educational opportunities made possible by Tri-County Electric are designed to help students understand what it takes to be a leader in their communities and why leadership is so important.”

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