WE MADE LEMONADE. What else could we do when the world handed us an orchard full of lemons?
Efforts to protect each other through social distancing meant summer cooperative programs like the Rural Electric Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. and the Cooperative Youth Summit to Columbia had to be cancelled. However, it did not mean that the four local high school students sponsored by Lynches River Electric Cooperative missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In June, Anna-Frances Wilson of Buford High School, and Kambrie Kearns and Dillon Burr of Chesterfield High School participated in Virtual Youth Experience, a week-long web conference sponsored by South Carolina’s electric cooperatives. (Grace Hicks of Andrew Jackson High School was also selected as a representative, but was not able to attend the Virtual Youth Experience.) The event allowed high school students selected by cooperatives from across the state to engage with leaders from the safety and comfort of their homes using computers and smartphones.
In addition to participating in this year’s Virtual Youth Experience, each of the students selected as Lynches River’s 2020 youth representatives will have the opportunity to participate in the Washington Youth Tour and Cooperative Youth Summit trips in the summer of 2021.
Instead of touring historic sites, 77 student delegates got to ask government, education, and health officials about the historic issues facing their generation. Instead of bonding on a chartered bus, these young people bonded via social networks, chats, and a special project they are all participating in.
Over a five-day period in June, several of our state’s highest elected officials—Governor Henry McMaster, U.S. Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, and U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn—discussed the response to the pandemic, policing and other topics important to the students. State Superintendent Molly Spearman described what their final years of high school might look like. Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s chief epidemiologist, answered questions about the pandemic and told them that their “new normal” should be wearing masks everywhere they go.
Jim Sonefeld, drummer for Hootie and the Blowfish, met with the Virtual Youth Experience students to discuss mental health during the pandemic and substance abuse. Rev. Charles Jackson, senior pastor at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, spoke to the students about the importance of developing community and positive race relations.
One of the best parts about the Virtual Youth Experience is that it can be relived. Each session is available to view on the South Carolina Living YouTube channel. Additionally, the students have synthesized their experiences into short-form podcasts, which are now accessible on our website.
Over the last several months, we’ve all had to make the best of some tough circumstances. In our current environment, I can’t think of a better experience our students could have had.