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Experience of a lifetime

Co-ops sponsor Kentucky high school students on Washington Youth Tour

When the new school year starts next month, dozens of Kentucky high school seniors will bring with them a better understanding of the United States government, the nation’s history and each other after participating in the 2024 Kentucky Electric Cooperatives Washington Youth Tour this summer.
Sponsored by their local electric cooperatives, 56 students from across Kentucky made up the youth tour delegation that in June joined about 1,800 other students in Washington, D.C. representing electric co-ops across the country.
“The tour allowed me to connect with fellow students from across Kentucky in counties I had never heard of and build lifelong friendships,” said Lewis County High School senior McKenzie Cunningham, a Fleming-Mason Energy attendee. “This experience has inspired me to be an active and informed citizen, and I am grateful for the opportunity.”
At the U.S. Capitol, the students learned about the legislative process and asked questions of key staff members from Kentucky’s congressional delegation.
“When you stand there, there is a wash of feelings,” recalled Anna Sumrall, an Elizabethtown High School Senior sponsored by Nolin RECC. “Part of you feels small standing inside such fantastic buildings. But more than that, I felt empowered. This is where it happens. As a student with a deep interest for civics and government, no experience compares to that of being in DC. No lecture or documentary can chalk up to hearing our leaders speak about their jobs — and waiting for the day when you’re in their shoes.”
On the steps of the U.S. Senate, the students named Sen. Mitch McConnell as the first honorary Kentucky Youth Tour delegate, recognizing his decades of service and support of electric cooperatives. Mason Lovell, Kentucky’s Youth Leadership Council delegate, presented the senator with a Kentucky Youth Tour pin.
“Despite you being one of the busiest U.S. Senators and party leader for so long, you’ve always taken the time to speak with our group here in the Kentucky delegation of the Washington Youth Tour,” said Lovell, a senior at McCallie School who was sponsored by Pennyrile Electric. “That’s meant a lot to us. You’ve also been an advocate for rural electric cooperatives, which effects lives like mine. We really want to say thank you.”
“Actually, I ought to be thanking you,” McConnell replied. “This is a great group I enjoy coming to Washington 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 presented a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Most students on the trip, including me, had never been to Washington, D.C.,” said Luke Humphries, a University Heights Academy student sponsored by Pennyrile Electric. “Being able to take in all the history and national culture with other students from Kentucky was amazing. A particularly 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 entire Kentucky group. That was a powerful moment, and I will definitely never forget it.”
Kentucky Electric Cooperatives has coordinated the tour since 1972, providing rising high school seniors the unique opportunity to witness our government in action.
“By exploring our nation’s capital firsthand, students gain not only knowledge of history, but also a sense of their own potential to lead and innovate in the world around them,” said Mallory Wafzig, manager of cooperative outreach and youth tour director.
“Each moment was not just about sightseeing but also about making 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 perspective but also gave me a sense of responsibility to contribute positively to my community and beyond.”
“This trip was truly the experience of a lifetime,” added Daviess County High School senior Abby Riley, who was sponsored by Kenergy. “Getting to see all the memorials, historic monuments, and our nation’s capital with my own eyes was absolutely astonishing. And our group fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and everyone was friends with each other.”
“I feel more connected to the history of our country and its place in the world,” said Quentin Ellis, a Randall K. Cooper High School senior sponsored by Owen County Electric. “It’s important for trips and opportunities like this to exist, if only to help the future generations to gain a better understanding of the world.”

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