Kentucky Electric Cooperatives sponsors high school students on the Washington Youth Tour
Kentucky Electric Cooperatives sponsors high school students on the Washington Youth Tour

When the new school year begins next month, dozens of Kentucky high school seniors will come away with a greater understanding of the U.S. government, the country’s history and each other after participating in the Kentucky Electric Cooperatives’ 2024 Washington Youth Tour this summer.

Fifty-six students from across Kentucky, sponsored by their local electric cooperatives, made up the youth travel delegation that met in Washington, DC in June with about 1,800 other students representing electric cooperatives from across the country.

“The tour allowed me to connect with classmates from across Kentucky that I had never met before and to form lifelong friendships,” said McKenzie Cunningham, a Lewis County High School student and Fleming-Mason Energy participant. “This experience has inspired me to be an active and informed citizen, and I am grateful for this opportunity.”

“I feel more connected to the history of our country and its place in the world,” said Quentin Ellis, a 12th grader at Randall K. Cooper High School sponsored by Owen County Electric. “It’s important that these trips and opportunities exist, if only to help future generations better understand the world.”

Kentucky Youth Leadership Council Delegate Mason Lovell names U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the first honorary delegate of the Washington Youth Tour. (Photo by Tim Webb, KY Electric Cooperatives)

At the U.S. Capitol, students learned about the legislative process and asked questions of key members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation.

“Standing there, you are overwhelmed with emotions,” recalls Anna Sumrall, a Nolin RECC-sponsored 12th grader at Elizabethtown High School. “Part of you feels small standing in such amazing buildings. But more than that, I felt empowered. This is where it happens. As a student with a deep interest in civics and government, there is no experience quite like the one in DC. No lecture or documentary can compare to hearing our politicians talk about their jobs – and waiting to be in their shoes one day.”

On the steps of the U.S. Senate, students named Senator Mitch McConnell the first honorary delegate of the Kentucky Youth Tour, recognizing his decades of service and support of electric cooperatives. Mason Lovell, delegate of the Kentucky Youth Leadership Council, presented the Senator with a Kentucky Youth Tour pin.

“Even though you are one of the busiest U.S. Senators and party leaders, you always took the time to speak to our group here in the Kentucky delegation of the Washington Youth Tour,” said Lovell, a 12th grader at McCallie School sponsored by Pennyrile Electric. “It meant a lot to us. You have also been an advocate for rural electric cooperatives, which impacts lives like mine. We really want to thank you.”

“Actually, I should thank you,” McConnell replied. “This is a great group. I look forward to coming to Washington with you every year.”

The delegation visited national memorials, museums and historic sites, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery, where students laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Most of the students on the trip, including myself, had never been to Washington, D.C.,” said Luke Humphries, a University Heights Academy student sponsored by Pennyrile Electric. “The opportunity to experience all of the history and national culture with other Kentucky students was incredible. A very special moment was when our group went to the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon; I could feel the reverence and respect for the victims throughout the Kentucky group. It was a powerful moment and one I will definitely never forget.”

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives has coordinated the tour since 1972, offering rising high school seniors a unique opportunity to see our government in action.

“By exploring our capital city firsthand, students gain not only historical knowledge but also a sense of their own potential to be leaders and innovators in the world around them,” says Mallory Wafzig, cooperative outreach manager and youth travel guide.

“Every moment was not just about sightseeing, but also about building lasting friendships and bonds with like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds,” said Natalie Sandlin of Jackson County High School, sponsored by Jackson Energy. “This tour not only broadened my horizons, but also instilled in me a sense of responsibility to make a positive contribution to my community and beyond.”

“This trip was truly a once in a lifetime experience,” added Abby Riley, a first-grader at Daviess County High School, sponsored by Kenergy. “Seeing all of the monuments, historical monuments, and our capital city with my own eyes was absolutely amazing. And our group fit together like puzzle pieces and everyone was friends with each other.”

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives

By Everly