For Olivia Ritchie, it’s the people and the places that made Washington Youth Tour so special.
Ritchie, Clara Grace Branham, and Sawyer Becker were sponsored by Lynches River Electric and joined 46 other South Carolina high school students sent by their electric cooperatives to Washington, D.C., in June. The visits to the city’s monuments and memorials went beyond a traditional school field trip. The students started their own co-op, met with legislators and their staffs, and made new friends from across the state.
“This trip has been life-changing,” says Ritchie, a rising senior at North Central High School. “Not only because of the people we have met, but all the experiences we’ve been able to share with them.”
For Becker, of Cheraw High School, the visit to Capitol Hill where he met congressional staff, Rep. Ralph Norman, Sen. Tim Scott, and Sen. Lindsey Graham made the biggest impact.
“We got to go see all these different things in the political system of the United States,” says Becker. “It’s given me a perspective from the politician’s point of view, not just from the outsider point of view.”
The students also visited Mount Vernon, the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon.
When they went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the students used pencil and paper to create an etching of names on the wall representing soldiers from their hometowns. At the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the students learned about the former president’s role in helping to establish electric cooperatives across the nation.
Throughout the trip, the students participated in the Soda Pop Co-op. The co-op sold snacks and beverages to the students. Some of the students served as cooperative board members, others were a part of the management team. As member-consumers, the students each received $9 in capital credits, their share of the co-op’s end-of-trip margins.
Even for Branham, whose grandfather Gene Branham was an employee at Lynches River Electric, the Soda Pop Co-op was a learning experience.
“I did not know that members got money back from co-ops,” says Branham, also a student at North Central High School. “I knew that they were community-based and community-run, but I didn’t know about that.”