Visitors to the Palm Springs, California, area sometimes volunteer at the FIND Food Bank, where Chantel Schuering welcomes everyone. But one recent group got more than a few extra hugs. In fact, before they even arrived, the name on the paperwork took Schuering back three decades—to her 1987 week on NRECA’s Youth Tour.
Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives wanted to do a service project during last month’s CEO Close-Up in Palm Desert, California. The convention and visitors bureau put them in touch with FIND, where Schuering works with volunteer groups.
“In the fine print I saw it was the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh. I love it,’” she recalled.
“It was completely random that all of this came together.”
A Midwesterner at Heart
Long before arriving in Indio, California, where she’s FIND’s community relations director, Schuering was a Missouri girl.
“I went to high school in Belle, so Three Rivers was my electric co-op,” she said.
As a rising high school junior, she participated in Missouri Scholars Academy, an annual summer program for gifted students. When the essay contest for a chance to go on Youth Tour came up a year later, “I didn’t think twice.” It’s a trip she fondly remembers.
Schuering didn’t say anything to the folks at Touchstone Energy ahead of time about her Youth Tour connection. But when the 30 co-op volunteers arrived Jan. 9, she introduced herself to Anne Harvey, Touchstone Energy’s director of member relations, and told her.
“She lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Schuering.
Harvey knew what having a Youth Tour alum in their midst would mean to the co-op volunteers, and she made sure they were aware.
“The whole group—everyone in the room—that was there volunteering knew what the Youth Tour was and gave me a big round of applause,” said Schuering, who was happy to see several fellow Midwesterners. “We had old home week, where I visited with people from Missouri and Indiana and Illinois.”
“It just made my day that people knew what it was.”
A Lasting Impact
Although her Youth Tour experience was three decades ago, when asked whether it influenced her life, Schuering doesn’t hesitate.
“It had a huge impact. I don’t even have to think twice about it,” she said.
“First of all, it was my first airplane ride. That’s a big deal when you’re a rural kid from Belle, Missouri,” she said.
Meeting Missouri’s two U.S. senators “changed my whole idea about politics and what politicians were,” said Schuering, who went on to double major in communications and political science at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri.
Youth Tour and Missouri Scholars Academy “were my ticket to something bigger,” she said. “They were my ticket to understanding that I could use my roots to go other places, and do really great things, and meet new people.”
And to this day, no visit to the nation’s capital can rival Youth Tour.
“That trip to Washington, D.C., really opened my eyes and really had a huge impact. I’ve gone back several times since, and I love the city, but that first time there will always be incredibly special.”
That’s no surprise to Lynn Moore, Touchstone Energy executive director.
“The cooperative difference is how we treat our members, how we collaborate and how we build communities,” said Moore.
“Youth Tour is more than a free trip to Washington, D.C. It’s an experience that creates a lasting impression and a reason our youth would want to be part of a cooperative,” said Moore. “If you’re looking for ideas to engage younger members, Youth Tour instills roots and the hope for a better future.”
Schuering moved to California 16 years ago. Although she’s 1,600 miles from Belle, Missouri, Youth Tour is never far away. She’s still in touch with some of the others who went that year.
“They’re all doing great things. They’re teachers, public officials, business owners, lawyers,” she said.
“We do go out into the world and do things.”
To the co-ops involved, Schuering’s message is simple: “Please continue it.” She’s even familiar with the next generation of Youth Tour kids.
“My best friend from high school—her son went last year.”
Michael W. Kahn is a staff writer at NRECA.