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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 (37 total from Minnesota) for the 48th annual National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Rural Electric Youth Tour held June 16-21. 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 Luke Birtzer, taking PSEO classes at Inver Hills Community College, Daniel Dawson and Whitney Johnson, both of Hastings High School; Nicholas Misukanis, St. Thomas Academy; and Christopher Runck, Apple Valley 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 2012 Youth Tour consisted of learning about governmental processes, issues of the day, electric cooperatives, American history and meeting with elected legislators, including Representative Kline and Senators Klobuchar and Franken.

“I learned that it is easier than you think to get your voice heard in Washington,” Birtzer said. “The senators and representatives we met took our questions very seriously, and they spoke of taking into consideration hundreds of letters and emails from constituents every day.”

Birtzer also said he made “awesome friends and memories” and the trip was “an amazing opportunity.”

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 50,000 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 2013 should watch for information in Dakota Electric’s newsletter or on the Web site in January or contact their guidance counselor.