Five students from local high schools in and around Dakota Electric Association’s service territory recently returned from a trip-of-a-lifetime to Washington D.C. The group joined more than 1,500 students from across the nation (34 total from Minnesota) for the 46th annual Rural Electric Youth Tour held June 13-18.

Dakota Electric Association awarded the students an all-expense-paid trip after they completed the application and interview process in March. The five local winners were Travis Brown, Rosemount High School; Kelsey Harding, Christian Life School; Michael Molenaar, Northfield High School; Elise Reller, Apple Valley High School and Bradley Simon, Burnsville High School.

Each year in June, an activity-filled week affords these high school youth opportunities to learn first hand what it is like to be involved in politics, community development and today’s social issues. The theme of the 2009 Youth Tour was “Our Energy Our Future,” and highlights consisted of learning about governmental processes, issues of the day, electric cooperatives, American history and meeting with elected legislators, including Representative Bachmann, Representative Walz and Senator Klobuchar.

“The Youth Tour was, without a doubt, incredible,” Harding said. “I loved it!”

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has been a joint effort of local electric co-ops, such as Dakota Electric, their statewide co-op associations, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Arlington, Virginia for more than 40 years.

In addition to taking in the sights and sounds of Washington D.C., all state groups convened for Rural Electric Youth Day to learn from public figures and other inspirational speakers.

“The trip was a once in a lifetime experience,” Harding said. “I’m so glad I went, and I’m extremely thankful to Dakota Electric Association that I got to go!”

Mike Schlappi, a four-time Paralympic medalist and two-time World Champion wheelchair basketball champion, gave an inspiring message for every American, young or old: “Just because you can’t stand up, doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.”

Since 1964, the National Rural Electric Association has been coordinating the annual youth tour. In that time, the nation’s cooperative electric utilities have sponsored more than 40,000 high school students for visits to their U.S. congressional delegations, grassroots government education sessions and sightseeing in Washington.

Students wishing to participate in Youth Tour 2010 should watch for information in Dakota Electric’s newsletter or on the Web site in January or contact their guidance counselor.