The record-setting crowd of 1,800 students on this year’s NRECA Youth Tour will have heard several inspirational messages during their week-long trip in the nation’s capital.
But mixed in with themes of perseverance and community service is a safety message from 29 students sent by Louisiana electric co-ops: “Hang up and Drive. Lives are on the Line.”
Those words of caution are the centerpiece of an anti-distracted driving campaign at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives (ALEC) in Baton Rouge. The message to combat texting and driving stood out as it was emblazoned on shirts worn by students and their chaperones from eight Louisiana co-ops.
“It resonates with me,” said Joseph Howard, 17, who represents Baton Rouge-based DEMCO on the 2017 Youth Tour, and describes himself as being “vigilant” about not texting while driving.
“It’s a distinct thing in the state and I was surprised to see that it’s from the co-ops,” he said. “It’s good that we’re doing this.”
Students from 46 states traveled to Washington, D.C., by land and air—Texas participants flew in a chartered plane—for this year’s annual Youth Tour June 9-15. In addition to the usual monuments and memorials, groups met with members of Congress, some ready with timely messages.
Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative’s Aaron Lay is from Madisonville, Tennessee, population, 4,735, according to latest census data. “When people think of America, they think of big cities with lots of people. Rural areas are the heartbeat of America,” said Lay, 17, who represents the Vonore-based co-op.
That message is important, especially as Congress faces pressure to “work well,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson told participants during the June 12 Youth Day program at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia.
“You bring a voice that wants to engage with people and talk about your community and what matters to you,” said Matheson. “It’s up to all of us to support it, nurture it, hold it accountable and make it work. That’s the approach of NRECA and that’s the approach you will help us pursue.”
Participants also heard about NRECA’s efforts to improve lives in developing countries by expanding access to electricity. Trevor Stratton, a journeyman lineman at Wolverine Power Supply Co-op in Cadillac, Michigan, described his involvement in Partners for Power, a 2015 volunteer project by Michigan co-ops in Buena Vista, Guatemala.
The townspeople “understood the cooperative spirit, and we all worked hard to pull it together,” said Stratton, adding they had set all the poles by hand—before the co-ops arrived. “I can’t overstate how hard these people worked to get electricity.”
The Youth Day program had a poignant moment, too, as Youth Tour organizers recognized Karen Bailey, NRECA’s senior youth program coordinator. She’s retiring later this month after 19 years.
“I just love this program. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’ve had the time of my life,” said Bailey.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.