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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. Dakota Electric’s students joined more than 1,500 students from across the nation (35 total from Minnesota) for the 48th annual National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Rural Electric Youth Tour held June 11-16. 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 Lisa Beard and Mary Gao, both of Rosemount High School; Clint Birtzer, Rosemount, is home schooled; Matthew Hardegger, Burnsville High School and Casey Casella, Eagan 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 events of the 2011 Youth Tour consisted of learning about governmental processes, issues of the day, electric cooperatives, American history and meeting with elected legislators, including representatives Kline and Walz and senators Klobuchar and Franken.

“I cannot thank NRECA and Dakota Electric enough for this experience of a lifetime,” Casella said. “This trip blended our nation’s history, current politics and everlasting friendships to create an unforgettable week in D.C. Being able to discuss our nation’s situation with Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar was an opportunity not many teenagers come across.”
“It was a tremendously powerful experience and a very good introduction to our nation’s capital,” Hardegger said. “Just being in the city gave me a renewed sense of patriotism and a greater understanding of our nation’s history and impact.”

“The trip to D.C. was probably the most enlightening and amazing experience I have ever had,” Mary Gao said. “This is a life changing trip that I will never forget.”

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.

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.”

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour has been a joint effort of local electric co-ops, such as Dakota Electric, their statewide co-op associations, including the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, and the NRECA, Arlington, Virginia, since 1964. 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 2012 should watch for information in Dakota Electric’s newsletter or on the Web site in January or contact their guidance counselor.