It’s #Our Time

Washington Youth Tour is the trip of a lifetime

Students Donovan McGehee, Jessica Schmidt, Ella Price, Ethan Roebuck, and Caleb Baldwin take a selfie in front of the White House with Youth Tour Director Hannah Capozzi, right, among other Arizona Youth Tour students.

In 1957, future President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Annual Meeting. He charged the membership with developing a program for the youth of rural America. He declared, “If one thing comes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”

Flash forward to 2023, and more than 1,800 students on average attend the annual Washington Youth Tour from across the United States.

45 students and 10 chaperones from Arizona’s electric co-ops and tribal utilities attended the 2023 Youth Tour, as well as Hannah Capozzi, GCSECA’s Arizona Youth Tour director and director of communications. Students and chaperones alike experienced a full schedule of events in D.C., setting a tone of hope and adventure.

One of the highlights of the week is an evening river boat cruise. Students from Arizona mingle with participants from four other states while they enjoy dinner and dancing to music from a DJ.

Arizona Youth Tour students pose in front of the first-base entrance at the Washington Nationals baseball game, an annual Youth Tour event.

“A little secret about the river boat cruise is that it’s one of the chaperones’ favorite nights of the trip, too,” Hannah says. “We aim to have this event on one of our first nights in D.C. as an ice breaker to meet other students in states from around the country that are in the ‘same boat’ as our Arizona students—literally. As a chaperone and statewide director, it’s always one of my favorite events. This is where we really get to see our students come out of their shells. The most introverted student of the group can suddenly become the life of the party, and it does such a fantastic job at setting the tone for the rest of the week.”

Among the fast-paced fun and adventure, students learn about electric co-op structure and history, meet with their elected officials and learn about U.S. history. Students also have a night dedicated to joining with every other participating state under the coordination of NRECA. National Youth Tour Director Beth Knudson leads the charge of a night filled with laughter, fun and education. Students hear from Youth Tour alumni, lineworkers who have participated in NRECA’s International Program, NRECA employees, and the ever-favorite inspirational speaker Mike Schlappi.

“I will remember this experience and this trip for the rest of my life,” Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative delegate Kevin Tran says. “Thank you to my co-op for giving me this opportunity to visit our nation’s capital.”

The Mohave Electric Cooperative Youth Tour student delegation met with U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar during the Youth Tour. This is one of the events GCSECA works hard to schedule for each co-op’s student delegation. From right are Paul Gosar, Rachel Barton, Amira Ramadan, Savanah Furr, Naomi Beck and MEC Chaperone and Chief Operating Officer Jon Martell. Photos courtesy of GCSECA

Navopache Electric Cooperative sponsored student Jackson Blackburn shared his warm-hearted sentiments on the trip.

“Thank you for giving me this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m grateful to have met so many life-long friends,” Jackson says. “I will remember this trip forever.”

Other students shared similar sentiments.

“You shaped one of the most life changing experiences of all of our lives,” says Kyrie ‘Bambi’ Luptak from NEC.
Alayna Mark, sponsored by Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority, chimed in as well.

“It was so awesome getting to know everyone,” she says. “It was an extraordinary trip.”

Youth Tour ignites a passion within delegates to look at the world with a fresh perspective, challenge the status quo, invest in rural America and create change in their communities. GCSECA looks forward to participating with students in the Washing- ton Youth Tour again in 2024.