Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson inspired the Youth Tour Program when he addressed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Annual Meeting in Chicago in 1957. The Senator and future president declared, “If one thing comes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”
Consequently, some Texas electric cooperatives sent groups of young people to Washington to work during the summer in Senator Johnson’s office. In 1958, a rural electric cooperative in Iowa sponsored the first group of 34 young people on a week-long study tour of our nation’s capital. Later that same year, another busload came to Washington from Illinois. The idea grew and other states sent busloads of young people throughout the summer. By 1959, the “Youth Tour” had grown to 130 students.
By 1964, the national office of rural electric cooperatives began coordinating the trip and joint activities among the state delegations and declared the second week in June as National Rural Electric Youth Tour Week. The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has brought more than 1,500 high school students to Washington, D.C. every June since 1964. Students on the tour learn about electric cooperatives, American history and U.S. government. This is more than a sight-seeing trip of Washington, D.C. There is a strong educational component—teaching the importance of being an active participant in our democracy. A highlight of the trip is to meet and talk with their representatives in the House and the Senate.
In 1978 DEMCO sent four high school students with two chaperones to Washington, D.C. and were joined by the Texas delegation. The next year, DEMCO encouraged other Louisiana electric cooperatives to join in this educational project.
In 1979, The Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives (ALEC) took interest in the program and began coordinating the annual Youth Tour Program for all participating Louisiana co-ops. ALEC arranges our delegation’s visits to U.S. representatives’ and senators’ offices, federal agencies and other educational and sightseeing activities. In addition to the planned statewide activities, the Youth Tour experience encompasses multi-state activities coordinated by NRECA. Each year, about 28 high school students from Louisiana journey to our nation's capital.
Through the Youth Tour program, DEMCO sponsors four high school juniors on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. DEMCO receives hundreds of essays each year from area high schools junior-students. Three judges read the essays and select 12 finalists who compete in an oral presentation of their written essay and a brief test on rural electrification knowledge. The competition is held annually at a Youth Tour Banquet at White Oak Plantation, and each finalist is joined by their parents and sponsoring teacher. At the banquet, the competing students each read their essay and four winners are announced and serve as DEMCO delegates for an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC to participate in the Rural Electric Youth Tour.