Empowering tomorrow’s leaders in Washington, D.C.

Local students represent Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative during Youth Tour

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each year, hundreds of high school students from across the United
States embark on an educational and inspirational journey to the nation’s capital city. Sponsored
by Illinois’ electric and telephone cooperatives, 54 students departed Springfield, Ill., by bus on
June 14 to Washington, D.C., for a weeklong trip of a lifetime.

Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative sponsored three students within its service
territory. These students included Carson Contreras, Kristi Wright, and Michael Biesenthal.

Youth Tour began in 1964, after President Lyndon B. Johnson inspired the nation’s
electric cooperatives to sponsor youths to go to D.C. to educate young people about the role of
electric co-ops and the significance of the legislative process. It became an annual tradition.

“Youth Tour is more than just a trip,” said Brooke Gross, Youth Tour coordinator from the
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that empowers future leaders to become informed, engaged and active
citizens. Many Youth Tour alumni go on to become leaders in their communities, inspired by this

The event offers a unique opportunity for students to explore the nation’s capital, meet
their peers from across the state and beyond, and engage with the political process. Youth Tour
not only highlights the importance of electric cooperatives but also fosters civic engagement and
leadership skills.

The itinerary for the Youth Tour was packed with both educational and cultural
experiences. The students visited major landmarks such as Gettysburg, Arlington National
Cemetery, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall. They also visited several museums, including
the Smithsonian, Air and Space Museum, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“There’s a lot more to Youth Tour than sightseeing,” Gross said. “It also provides students with a deeper understanding of American history and
government and the role electric and telephone cooperatives play in the communities they


One way the students learned about cooperatives was by forming one themselves. The
Chip ’n’ Pop Co-op is an engaging way to provide the Youth Tour participants with experience in
understanding the fundamentals of the cooperative business model.

“This hands-on activity emphasizes the importance of teamwork,” Gross said. “The students gained practical business skills and a deeper appreciation
for cooperatives.” The students created their own snack shop cooperative by forming a nominating
committee, electing a board of directors and hiring a co-op manager. RECC representative Kristi
Wright participated as a member of the nominating committee, and Carson Contreras served on
the board of directors. The students worked together to manage all aspects of the operation and
had an equal say in decision-making, just like the cooperatives that sponsored them on the trip.

In addition, the students voted for one of their peers to represent Illinois on the Youth
Leadership Council (YLC). Those interested in becoming Illinois’ YLC representative filled out
an application, and five were selected to give a speech in front of their peers. Cole Buchanan,
representing SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, was selected as the 2024-2025 YLC
representative for Illinois. He will represent the state at national and state meetings and events
in the year ahead.

“The impact of Youth Tour goes far beyond Washington, D.C.,” Gross said. “One of the most impactful parts of Youth Tour is the relationships that
students build with their peers from different parts of the state and country. These connections
often turn into lifelong friendships.”


High school students who live within the service area of RECC are eligible to participate
in the annual program. To learn more about Youth Tour, go to youthtour.coop or
facebook.com/ILYouthTour.  Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative (RECC) is a member of Touchstone Energy —
a national alliance of local, consumer-owned electric cooperatives providing high standards of
service. RECC is committed to providing superior service based on four core principles:
integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community. The co-op serves more than
5,900 meters over 1,382 miles of line in parts of Christian, Macoupin, Montgomery, Morgan and
Sangamon counties. For more information visit recc.coop.