NC’s electric cooperatives build future leaders through Youth Tour program

For the last 57 years, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have been giving students from across the state an opportunity to visit our nation’s capital, diving into history and exploring how they can shape the future.

In June, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives sent 41 high school students to Washington, D.C. where they joined more than 1,800 students from 44 states, sharing their diverse backgrounds and perspectives and learning about how co-ops are working together to power a brighter future.

The weeklong experience gave delegates an opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of D.C., but also allowed them to expand their horizons, equipping them with knowledge and skills to serve them going forward. A highlight of the trip each year, students spent a day on Capitol Hill where they toured the U.S. Capitol, learning more about the federal government and the nation’s founding.

During this trip, the delegates had lunch with staffers from North Carolina’s congressional delegation where they discussed civic engagement, what it’s like to work in Congress and potential career paths after school. The students also made stops at the historic monuments along the National Mall, visited Smithsonian museums and honored the sacrifice of those who have served our country at Arlington National Cemetery.

Impact of Youth Tour

Beyond touring the nation’s capital and its historic sites, delegates also gained valuable insight into the impact that electric cooperatives have in their communities through the Youth Tour.

Evan Keith attends session during Youth Tour trip. (Photo courtesy of John Boal Photography)

“It is clear that cooperatives truly care for our communities, and Youth Tour gave me the opportunity to learn about their mission and their core values which match with mine,” said Evan Keith who represented Union Power Cooperative on the Youth Tour. “I am so thankful for Union Power and their staff who handpicked me to represent Forest Hills High School, Union County and their cooperative.”

Surrounding himself with peers from across the country, Keith said he learned lessons that will serve him both back home, but hopefully on a larger scale one day.

“The people I met all throughout the week really gave me hope for the future of our country’s leadership,” said Keith. “It was inspirational seeing so many hearts that have the same energy and passion for service as I do.”

Empowering youth

Youth programs like the annual trip to D.C., help to not only teach students about their local electric cooperative, but also open the door to new opportunities, whether that be leadership, education or service to their communities.

Students tour the United States Capitol building.

“Supporting students from our service territory through our education programs, like Youth Tour, is crucial,” said Emily Aldridge, communications and public relations specialist at Union Power Cooperative and a 2024 Youth Tour advisor. “These programs provide invaluable educational opportunities, build leadership skills and confidence and expose students to diverse career paths. The experiences these students gain from the trip are not just remarkable, they are life changing.”

Brighter future for next generation

While students had an opportunity to step back in time, learning about American history, they also learned about where they fit into building a brighter future for their communities.

For Keith, he said the experience was unforgettable and one he would recommend to youth across North Carolina.

“As students, we play a pivotal role in not only our communities, but the future of our great state,” said Keith. “Youth Tour allows us to become leaders and learn how to guide others, creating the change we hope to see one day. I’m thankful that the cooperatives believe in the younger generation and want to give us the tools to success through exciting programs and opportunities.”

High school students interested in applying for next summer’s Youth Tour, can find more information at