NRECA’s Electric Cooperative Youth Tour returns to the nation’s capital this year with a few changes after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

About 1,300 Youth Tour delegates and chaperones will attend in two separate groups over a 10-day period to minimize crowding: June 14-19 and June 19-24.

This year’s group is smaller than in previous years for pandemic-related and budget reasons, said Beth Knudson, NRECA’s youth programs and training manager. Co-ops in 28 states are participating, compared to 43 to 44 states in typical years. Several states have chosen to hold in-state events this year as an alternative to sending delegates to Washington.

“We are so excited to welcome these young leaders back to D.C., after our two-year absence,” said Beth Knudson, NRECA’s youth programs and training manager. “We will have our usual programming and activities—they will just be modified to accommodate the new group sizes and timelines. We are BACK, baby!”

Tennessee co-ops usually sponsor one of the largest delegations, but the state is bringing 49 students this year, compared to 185 in 2019, said Todd Blocker, vice president of member relations at Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in Nashville and main tour organizer.

“In order to make the logistics a little more manageable and to ease our Youth Tour team back into the event, we limited each co-op to just three delegates,” said Blocker. “We had a few co-ops elect not to participate in the 2022 tour, so those spots were reassigned to other co-ops.”

The formal Youth Day program will return this year but will take place three times—twice on June 18 and once on June 20. Presenters include NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, NRECA President Chris Christensen and inspirational speaker Mike Schlappi, a wheelchair basketball player who has appeared in four consecutive summer Paralympic Games.

Other activities include a revamped Co-op 101 and advocacy program, as well as welcome and farewell events. The familiar “Blue Shirts,” past Youth Tour participants, will be on hand as well.

Youth Tour planners hope that a return to Washington will help rebuild a pipeline of interested students, with 2022 delegates promoting the program in their schools. Momentum flagged a bit after 2019 Youth Tour alumni graduated, organizers said.

“We feel like we’re starting a brand-new program in some ways because we need to educate new teachers and many co-op youth program coordinators have retired,” said Shana Read, director of education and training at Kansas Electric Cooperatives and the state’s main Youth Tour organizer. Instead of traveling to D.C., this year, 17 delegates from 11 Kansas co-ops are participating in a three-day leadership conference in Topeka.

In the meantime, past Youth Tour chaperones are looking forward to seeing D.C. again through new sets of eyes.

“We all know the impact that Youth Tour can have on young people, and we are thrilled to be able to help these delegates learn more about public policy, history, leadership and cooperatives,” said Blocker.