NRECA's Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is back in the nation's capital again this year with participant numbers approaching pre-pandemic levels.

More than 1,800 youth delegates and chaperones are attending at different times over a two-week period, from June 13 to 23. That's a solid increase over last year's 1,300 attendees and not far below the 2,000 that attended in 2019 before a two-year pandemic hiatus. Forty-four states are represented this year, compared to 28 in 2022.

“We are still feeling the effects of the pandemic," said Beth Knudson, NRECA's youth programs and training manager. “Not having our in-person program in 2020 or 2021 put a dent in our applications simply because we don't have those recent attendees in our pipeline to promote the program at school. But we're getting there!"

One state, New York, is sending a delegate for the first time, and Maine is sending two students after a 25-year hiatus.

New York co-ops hold their own D.C. Youth Tour in April because the state's standardized test schedule conflicts with the June event. But high school junior Erin Coppersmith, a member of Delhi-based Delaware Electric Cooperative, had a different testing schedule and is taking another trip to the nation's capital this year with the national tour.

“It's going to be awesome to make connections with students from other parts of the country," the 17-year-old said.

The formal Youth Day program will take place on June 17 and June 21. Presenters include Mat Kilgore, a line foreman at Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative and NRECA International volunteer, and motivational speaker Mike Schlappi, a wheelchair basketball player who has appeared in four consecutive summer Paralympic Games.

Other activities include a Co-op 101 session and advocacy program. “Blue Shirts," past Youth Tour participants, also will be on hand this year.

One of those Blue Shirts is Oklahoma's Oliva Cantwell, who has waited three years for her chance to go to Washington, D.C. Originally scheduled to go as a 2020 delegate from Oklahoma's Cotton Electric Cooperative, the rising college junior is helping Knudson and other Youth Tour organizers with logistics over the next two weeks.

“It was definitely disheartening, not getting to go to Washington, D.C., but the Youth Tour team did a really good job of making sure we still got some form of experience through the Virtual Youth Tour on Facebook," Cantwell said. “I would tune in every night to hear the speakers and, while we didn't get to experience Washington, D.C., I still felt like I got a taste of what Youth Tour is about."

Cantwell, 20, was determined to make it to D.C., and she applied immediately when she learned organizers were looking for staff assistants.

“I'm really looking forward to meeting all the other delegates representing their states," Cantwell said. “We all come from such different backgrounds, so it will be interesting to see how we differ and see how much we have in common because I think all of us want to play our part in making the world a better place."

Follow the delegates while they're in D.C. on Instagram and Facebook.