For many teens, the Indiana Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., is full of “firsts.” It may be the first time they left the state, visited the nation’s capital or have been away from their family for an extended period of time. They see and experience the larger world through their own eyes, rather than through their parents’ perspective. That’s the most important first, as it’s truly a “leap” to their next phase of life.
In preparation for Youth Tour, teens learn about cooperatives, our history and grassroots advocacy. Youth Tour started from a suggestion of then Sen. Lyndon Johnson to a national gathering of co-ops. Johnson felt youth from rural areas would benefit by visiting Washington to see first-hand how government works and gain a wider perspective. High school juniors selected by their electric co-ops participate in a week-long trip to the nation’s capital. The program has grown exponentially since its inception, and this past year, we saw more than 1,600 high school juniors participate from co-ops in 44 states. Southern Indiana Power sent three individuals to contribute to that number.
The week is filled with visits to many D.C. monuments and sites, including Capitol Hill. Activities with Youth Tour delegations from across the country enable teens to meet a broad spectrum of co-op kids. Our program creates a safe space for teens to discover the adults they are striving to be. Teens leave behind their hometown identity and venture forward with a fresh slate.
Teens meet with our congressional delegation and learn first-hand that their elected officials work for their hometown community. Students often have the opportunity to discuss issues with legislators. Youth Tour culminates in a farewell evening centered on challenging and inspiring teens to make an impact in their communities. As conversations evolve, so too do the teens’ world view. Their definition of community often changes from their hometown to a broader meaning.
I can say that nearly all teens who have participated in the Youth Tour program look back with fond memories. For a few, Youth Tour is a transformational experience. Parents even remark how their child returned noticeably different — more confident with bigger goals and aspirations.
I am constantly impressed by each of the students our co-op sponsors. I hope you will consider urging your teen to “take the leap” and submit an application to be chosen as one of our next Youth Tour representatives.