Washington, D.C. Youth Tour

2021 Youth Tour 

The 2021 Youth Tour has been canceled. 

Due to many concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana Electric Cooperative Association (MECA) will not participate in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. This means Flathead Electric Co-op will not send students to Washington D.C. in 2021. In lieu of the Youth Tour, Flathead Electric and MECA offered a scholarship contest for local students.

This application is now closed. Check back for future updates on potential 2022 Youth Tour opportunities. 

Congratulations to the winner of the Youth Tour Essay Contest!

Our Youth Tour Essay Contest this year asked applicants “How has reliable electricity benefitted you and your community through the COVID-19 pandemic?” Whitney Brynne Bodily, a sophomore at Columbia Falls High School, wrote the winning essay and earned a $1,000 scholarship. Here is her winning essay:

In 2018 if someone told me that I would be in a pandemic, I probably would have said “What’s that?”… what comes to mind now is everyone in a panic buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer, leaving the shelves bare! Like me, not having imagined what might happen in the future, I wonder if Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla would’ve believed it if somebody told them that in the next 100 or 200 years the world would be in a pandemic and be completely dependent on electricity. In fact, it has become such an integral part of our lives, that I really didn’t notice or even think about it until it was missing. It is one of the many things that most people take for granted.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of things were changing at a rapid pace. My family and I went from vacationing in Florida near the end of February, to coming home to almost a state of emergency. My high school along with many other schools were being shut down for an indefinite amount of time, which created feelings of uncertainty. Many restaurants, gyms, salons, dental, optical, and medical offices/services, as well as other close contact or non-essential businesses were being shut down as well. Many employers were encouraged to help find ways for their employees to work from home. Those living in the state of Montana were being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. Communities were then asked to start wearing masks in public places, which eventually led to a statewide mask mandate. Social interactions became very limited, almost non-existent, except for immediate household members.

In addition to these restrictions, borders were being closed for travel to other countries, even to Canada. Many of my immediate and extended family live in Canada so this had a huge impact on me and my family…not knowing when the border would reopen or when we could be together again.

One thing that’s been constant amidst all these changes that I’ve noticed, is electricity. Having reliable electricity has had a direct effect on my education during this time. I went from in class teaching to online learning in a matter of weeks, and what was thought to last just a short amount of time, ended up being the rest of the school year. It was tricky to say the least, and a challenge for staff and students alike. Google meets, online testing and lots of email communication was what it took to finish the school year while maintaining my academic goal of a 4.0. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to continue my studies through this difficult time. Colleges were also able to switch to remote learning and continue further education for those in my community. Every aspect of these educational changes required electricity.

Reliable electricity also ensured that many of the essential things needed were available. Going to the grocery store was almost a daily occurrence before the pandemic, but during this time these trips were less frequent, more planned and better prepared for. My family makes menu plans to limit the trips to the store, preparing most of our food at home. Learning to cook and having access to the internet for new recipes has helped to keep variety on the table. Additional programs have been made available for all families in the community during this difficult time to help feed families, like farm hands, foodbanks, and school lunch programs even delivered on bus routes. My sister has a chronic illness and is very dependent on Medical services, physicians, and medicine. She has been able to continue with Tele-health visits when offices were closed to still maintain the care and medications needed. Along with that, electricity enables her to have ice and heat to relieve some of her discomfort. She is one of many in my community who require these essential services on a regular basis. Places like hospitals, health care, and pharmacies all run on electricity. These have been especially necessary during this global crisis. Only by having reliable electricity have these important services been able to continue.

For many in my community, employment has been a challenge due to shutdowns. For those employers who have been able to continue their services, reliable electricity has been vital. My dad works in an IT position. Part of his job is to provide staff with the technology and tools needed to perform their work. With employers trying to navigate employees being able to work from home, he has played a crucial part in ensuring that they have the proper tools needed, including laptops, internet, and other software essential to their positions working off site. Again, without reliable electricity, all of those efforts would have been wasted.

On a more personal level, having good electricity has made it so that I can charge my cell phone which has enabled me to stay connected to my extended family, especially those living in Canada. With the border closure, I have been unable to see them – initially I thought it would only be for a month or so but has now continued for more than 9 months, with no current end in sight. I am able to Facetime and see my grandparents, my siblings not living at home, and all my other extended family. Even just simple phone calls have enabled me to stay in contact with family. I have also been able to stay in touch with friends. As I said before, a lot of places have been shut down, including the gyms. One of my passions is working out and during the pandemic I have had to do it at home. I have some equipment at home such as a rowing machine, treadmill, and elliptical which all use electricity. I’ve also been using some online fitness videos to make up for not being in the gym. Working out at home has been pretty great, I even do it with my mom sometimes.

There’s some famous people from the past who I think would be amazed if they realized where their early efforts have led to. From Benjamin Franklin flying his kite into a lightning storm with metal attached, to his lighting rod invention and trying to figure out how to harness electricity. To Thomas Edison, who is most widely known for the electric lightbulb and the direct current system, including DC generators. His efforts led to businesses and homes utilizing electricity – he also had a company named General Electric which is still a major company today. And then there’s Nikola Tesla, most widely known for AC electricity. He and Edison were major factors in the “War of the Currents” of which AC obviously won because that is what is found in homes across the world. Tesla also made one of the first hydroelectric power plants at Niagara Falls in the US. In addition, he created the tesla coil which is what wireless technology is based from.

On a local level, my great grandfather contributed to more modern-day electricity utilization. He was a heavy equipment engineer and worked in the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam, which was completed in 1953. Hydroelectric generation is one of the most steady, constant, and reliable sources of electricity. I know Flathead Electric has multiple power sources including solar panels. It’s amazing to think that the earth’s elements, wind, water and fire are able to power the entire world. I’m especially thankful for those early electrical pioneers and for the linemen and the electrical engineers at Flathead Electric Co-op whose dedication enable us to have consistent and reliable electricity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About Youth Tour

2017 Youth tour participants on location in the D.C. area.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. sends more than 1,500 high-school students to Washington, D.C. each year to learn about the history of this country and the role electric cooperatives played in that history, and to meet with their congressional delegation.  Montana sends more than 25 students each year to participate in the Youth tour at no cost to those students.A Youth Tour participant experiences the Vietnam War Memorial.

Flathead Electric Co-op offers two “all expense paid” trips to Washington, D.C. Youth Tour each year to high school sophomores or juniors from schools in the Flathead Electric service territory. The student’s parent or guardian must be served by Flathead Electric Cooperative.


Youth Tour Perspectives

Students selected often describe the trip as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Click the buttons below to read about the highlights, as told by past participants.