This content was featured in the August 2023 issue of Kansas Country Living.
Skylar Kahrs and Arabella Wernecke were among 27 Kansas student delegates to attend the 2023 Electric Cooperative Youth Tour in Washington, D.C, held June 15-22. They were juniors at Clifton Clyde Senior High School when selected to represent Prairie Land at this exclusive opportunity to experience the country’s history and government firsthand. While exploring Washington, D.C., students learned more about America’s electric cooperatives and developed valuable leadership skills.
The 2023 Youth Tour began in Topeka with a get-acquainted dinner for the students, followed by a night tour of the Kansas State Capitol led by State Treasurer Steven Johnson and Kansas Representative Kyle Hoffman, both alumni of the Kansas electric cooperative youth programs. Before departing for Washington, D.C., students visited with linemen at FreeState Electric Cooperative where they learned about the co-op’s commitment to safety and the safety gear they wear, then had the opportunity to ride in a bucket truck.
The seven-day trip to D.C. included a tour of the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Smithsonian museums, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon. The students helped raise the garrison flag at Fort McHenry, experienced an elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument and completed a driving simulation at the Law Enforcement Museum.
Kansas delegates joined 1,531 youth from 44 other states to attend a day of inspirational programming at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) National Youth Day on June 17. Paralympic Gold Medalist Mike Schlappi addressed the students and motivated them for success as future leaders. Other speakers included Mat Kilgore, a lineman from Iowa Lakes Electric Co-op, who shared stories from his time in Guatemala with NRECA International, and Rukaya Alrubaye, the NRECA Youth Leadership Council spokesperson, sponsored by Ozarks Electric in Arkansas, who encouraged the students to dream big.
The Kansas student delegates witnessed government in action by engaging with United States Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall. The Kansas legislators answered questions from the students ranging in topics including the farm bill, crop insurance, labor shortages, the impact of a flat tax, and how students can succeed in future internships.
For Kahrs and Wernecke, attending the youth tour as a representative of the cooperative was an inspirational experience.
“Mike Schlappi’s speech about overcoming his obstacles after being shot and paralyzed was very inspiring,” Kahrs said. “It taught me to continue to make my life the best I can under any circumstance.”
“The whole district of Washington, D.C., inspired me,” Wernecke said. “I was reminded of the sacrifices of the individuals that helped build our country and give me the freedom and liberties that I have today. It inspired me to want to do good for my country.”
At the conclusion of the conference, Brinlie Stevens, sponsored by Wheatland Electric Cooperative, was elected to be the 2024 Kansas representative to the NRECA Youth Leadership Council after being interviewed by a panel of chaperones and receiving the majority of votes from her fellow Youth Tour delegates.
“Seeing all the things that we have been learning about in history since we were little kids was so amazing,” Stevens said. “It was incredible to see how generous our electric cooperatives are in providing an experience like this.”
Stevens will have the opportunity to travel to San Antonio, Texas, and open the general session at PowerXchange, NRECA’s Annual Meeting.
Kansas Youth Tour alumni are eligible to apply for the Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (KEC) Auxiliary Scholarship and the NRECA Glenn English Scholarship.
Sponsoring local students for the youth tour is one of the most important ways that Prairie Land upholds the cooperative principle of education, training and information. We are proud to have this unique opportunity to build upon the leadership potential of the next generation.