On a steamy day in July, as heat and humidity gripped the nation’s capital, NRECA’s summer interns made a difference, one subway rider at a time.

It was all for a good cause. July 21 marked Hill Day, when interns took to the pavement and halls of Congress to raise awareness of NRECA’s Co-ops Vote campaign. The goal: to highlight rural issues on Capitol Hill and reverse the 18 percent slide in voter turnout in rural America since 2012.

“When we were saying the program was about rural America, people would make comments like, ‘We are rural America!’ as they were passing by,” says Lucy Gardner, a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and one of five NRECA interns who spent Hill Day at the Capitol South Metro station, handing out leaflets explaining the purpose of the campaign. “This was really cool because we saw the people we are trying to directly impact in a positive way. It made the whole day that much more meaningful.”

After canvassing at subway stations, Gardner and the other 30 interns wound their way through congressional office buildings, dropping off Co-ops Vote packets at all 535 offices—and sometimes engaging in conversation with Hill staffers.

The experience was “invaluable,” says Markeus Farrand, a student at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“You went to these offices, and you didn’t know who you were going to talk to,” he says. “I learned to be more professional, and I’ll be able to take new skills and apply them to my academic career.”

Gardner and Farrand were among the summer interns designing strategies to promote Co-ops Vote among millennials, co-ops, and even co-workers at NRECA’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

Their accomplishments included a “five-star” ranking system to reward and recognize co-ops for participation, an ambassador program for former Youth Tour participants to influence friends to vote this November, and sign-up days at NRECA.

And these being millennials, they created lots of social media content. For example, “postcard” videos on Instagram of interns generated thousands of hits.

That enthusiasm and perspective breathed more life into the campaign, says Laura Vogel, NRECA senior adviser for political affairs.

“For the most part, these ideas were theirs,” she says. “That’s what we liked about having them as part of this project, having this infusion of ideas that we wouldn’t think of because we do it day in and day out.”

The interns said say they would return to their campuses with a new sense of civic duty to urge their friends to vote.

“A lot of my friends aren’t registered to vote or don’t plan to vote because no one has approached them,” says Ivy Prater, who attends the University of Nebraska-Kearney. “I am excited to take back what I learned this summer and share my enthusiasm for civic engagement with my community.”

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