YouthTECH Honors High-Performing Teens Who Thrived Despite Pandemic

Former Rep. Robert Hurt, Prince Edward County High School rising seniors Mason Kinne and Jasmine Harris and Southside Electric President and CEO Jeffrey Edwards participate in the co-op’s YouthTECH to recognize high-achieving teens. (Photo By: SEC)

It’s been a busy year for 16-year-old Jasmine Harris. Since January, she’s launched her own DJ business, performed in a touring gospel group, participated in Girl Scouts, played on her high school basketball team and continued her straight-A streak at school despite major surgery and months of recovery.

“I practiced diligence,” she said. “I kept up with my schoolwork. I maintained a 4.0 GPA through it all.”

It was that focus, among other traits, that helped the teenager win recognition and an Apple MacBook from Southside Electric Cooperative in its first YouthTECH event held Aug. 7 at its headquarters in Crewe, Virginia.

YouthTECH winners were chosen based on their grades, activities and essays describing personal characteristics they developed during a year of unprecedented uncertainty. 

Mark Thomas and Joy Stump, SEC community relations coordinators, set up free laptops for high-achieving local teens as part of YouthTECH, the co-op’s stand-in for NRECA’s Youth Tour, which was sidelined by the pandemic. (Photo By: SEC)

“A lot of them talked about their struggles and leadership,” said Joy Stump, a community relations coordinator at SEC. “We were looking for kids who gave us real-life examples of how they were growing.”

In total, SEC awarded MacBooks or Dell personal computers in sturdy backpacks to a dozen rising high school seniors for the program it developed as an alternative to NRECA’s weeklong Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. The tour was canceled for a second year due to COVID-19.

The co-op gave cash awards to would-be Youth Tour participants in 2020 but this year wanted to do something that would embody the bonding that Youth Tour inspires, according to Stump and Mark Thomas, senior community relations coordinator.

Thomas’s wife, Molly, a physics teacher at an all-girls high school, suggested giving the winners laptops. Thomas and Stump set about crafting YouthTECH day activities that included tasking four groups of three students with communicating the challenges and any silver linings of the pandemic using social media, a podcast or blog. Each group presented to the audience, explaining the medium and the message.

(L-R) Chase Cousins, Jasmine Harris and Mariah Paras brainstorm their social media presentation on the challenges of the pandemic at YouthTECH, a program created by SEC to substitute for NRECA’s Youth Tour this year. (Photo By: SEC)

Former Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Va., Jeffrey Edward, SEC president and CEO, and Ron White, the co-op’s vice president of member and public relations, also spoke and awarded the laptops in the ceremony at SEC’s outdoor pavilion.

Harris, who attends Prince Edward County High School, and her family are SEC members, but YouthTECH was open to any 11th grader who lives and attends school in one of the co-op’s 18 counties. The co-op was able to recognize four more students than it has in the past with Youth Tour.

Recalling the day’s events, Harris said she made a new friend from another high school and took to heart Hurt’s words that YouthTECH was “a big accomplishment.”

“I won something on my own,” she said, and when applying for college, “it will look good on my part to succeed further outside school.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.