2014 Youth Tour students from S.C. pose for a photo in front of Mount Vernon.

2014 Youth Tour students from S.C. pose for a photo in front of Mount Vernon.

June 19, 2014

Each June, the Washington Youth Tour brings together more than 1,600 talented, ambitious young people from across the country for a week that develops their leadership skills and future ambitions. This year, South Carolina’s electric cooperatives sent their largest contingent to date; sixty-four rising high school seniors from the Palmetto state made the journey to Washington, D.C.

“It’s pretty cool being around so many other kids who have big goals for the future,” said Brent Towery, a student at Socastee High School and a member of Horry Electric Cooperative. “After the first day of the trip, it’s like we had all known each other forever.”

Begun in 1964, Washington Youth Tour celebrated a fifty-year anniversary this June. More than 50,000 students nationwide have made the trip since the program’s founding.

"Youth Tour is one of the greatest outreach tools our co-ops have,” says Van O’Cain, South Carolina’s Youth Tour coordinator.  “We're not just sending students on a trip to Washington, D.C., we're building life-long relationships with them.  And they will always remember what their co-op did for them."

During their time in the nation’s capitol, students gain a deeper understanding of American history by touring monuments, memorials and museums. They also learn about the importance of public service. During a visit to the U.S. Capitol, students met U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“Be relentless in pursuit of your goals,” Sen. Scott told the students who had gathered on the front steps of the Capitol building. “It may be one of you standing here as a senator one day.”

To help students better understand the business model of cooperatives, a Soda Pop Co-op formed on the first day of the trip. The goal of the co-op was providing the group an opportunity to avoid paying “tourist” prices for snacks and drinks on the trip. Students elected a board of directors to oversee co-op business while a manager and assistant manager were responsible for the delivery of sodas and snacks throughout the trip. Chaperones and students paid $1 membership fee to join the Soda Pop co-op, which gave all members access to goods at an affordable price.

“We saw street vendors selling water for $5 a bottle,” said Sarah-Ellen Floyd, a member of the Soda Pop co-ops board of directors. “Forming the co-op allowed us to sell the water for .50 cents, and we still made a small profit.”

Because the cooperative business model is not-for-profit, all proceeds that remained at the end of the trip were returned to Soda Pop co-op members. Not only did co-op members save money on snacks and sodas throughout the trip, they each received a “capital credit”payout of $7 when the co-op disbanded at the end of Youth Tour. Instead of pocketing a majority of the “profits”,  students and chaperones donated $375 of their capital credits to the “Team Crosley” fund. Katie Crosley is a student from Kansas who attended Youth Tour in 2013. Four months after the trip, Katie’s father succumbed to prostate cancer. The fund was established to help Katie, and her brother Ryan defray the expenses of attending college.

Find photos and updates from the 2014 tour on Twitter.