More than 1,800 of rural America’s best and brightest high-schoolers will visit Washington, D.C., this month to learn about the political process, interact with elected officials and gain an up-close understanding of American history.

NRECA organizers of Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, now in its 53rd year, are putting the final touches on the weeklong program that includes Youth Day on June 11, a spirited gathering of young delegates and featured speakers. At more than 2,100 participants—about 260 are adult chaperones—this year’s tour is the largest, said Patrick Ahearn, NRECA’s director of political affairs.

“We’ve grown so much over the last few years that we now have to hold our Youth Day rally in two separate sessions,” said Ahearn.

Electric co-ops select and sponsor high schoolers in their service areas for the all-expenses co-op paid trip. Youth Tour participants also attend leadership training and learn about their co-ops’ purpose in programs back home.

“They’re not just lineman and people running electricity. They also have [public relations] teams, CEOs and general managers and safety teams. They have so many people involved, yet they’re such a tight-knit community,” said 2017 participant Allison Williams, sponsored by FreeState Electric Cooperative in McLouth, Kansas.

Texas co-ops are sending the largest contingent: 165 high-schoolers and chaperones will board a chartered flight bound for Washington. Tennessee is close behind with more than 140 delegates.

“From these giant groups, to states like Alaska, who sends one delegate on the almost daylong travel journey, and every state in between, Youth Tour is a life-changing opportunity for all involved,” said Beth Knudson, an NRECA consultant.

Check out the story of 2017 delegate Ethan Geraets, sponsored by Sioux Valley Energy in Colman, South Dakota, as he left his rural community to take part in the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

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