Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TOP STORY >> Teens take tour of Washington

First Electric Cooperative sent four high school students on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington in June during its annual youth tour.

Mattingly Bartole of Cabot, Caleigh Pickard of Austin, Joseph Hammond of Benton and Erin Holland of Heber Springs, along with 39 teenagers from the 16 other Arkansas electric cooperatives, joined 1,700 teens from across the U.S. to explore Washington.

“Washington, D.C., is an incredible, beautiful city, and sharing the trip with such a fantastic group of people truly made the experience,” Bartole said.

They learned more about the role electric cooperatives play in communities and met members of the Arkansas congressional delegation at the Capitol.

Pickard said the highlights for her included seeing the more than 58,000 names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, viewing the Reflecting Pool she first saw in the movie “Forrest Gump” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and admiring Dorothy’s ruby slippers and First Ladies’ dresses at the National Museum of American History.

Pickard recalled the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a humbling experience.

“I don’t think I would be able to go again just because it is so emotional, but it’s definitely something that each person needs to experience in their lifetime,” Pickard said.

“Seeing the piles of shoes is what got me the most,” Pickard said.

For Bartole the highlights included the Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials.

“They both memorialize such incredible individuals who brought about so much change,” Bartole said.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps also was one of Bartole’s favorite stops with its unique design and exploration of the more than 237-year history of the Marines.

The theme of the Arkansas Youth Tour each year is “Freedom is not Free.” Many stops reflect that. The group watched the Sunset Parade at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, explored veterans’ memorials on the National Mall and observed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Pickard said she often has heard people say, “Freedom is not free,” but didn’t fully understand the concept until she visited the sites on Youth Tour. The phrase took on a new meaning at Arlington National Cemetery, which held 26 funerals the day the group visited.

“Until you stand in front of rows and rows of white headstones, I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend it,” Pickard said.

“I’m eternally grateful for those heroes who gave up their own lives for our freedom,” she said.

For Pickard, the experience will continue. She was selected to represent the state on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Leadership Council in Washington held July 16-20 for a leadership workshop focusing on the electric cooperative industry.

She also will attend the NRECA annual meeting in San Diego in February.

Both girls encouraged teenagers to apply for the 2017 Youth Tour.

“It’s hard to describe how amazing the trip is. Although it is a short time, you learn so much and gain a greater appreciation of how incredible our nation and the sacrifices made in honor of it truly are,” Bartole said.

High school juniors whose parents or guardians are First Electric members can apply for the 2017 Youth Tour. First Electric will have applications available at the co-op’s offices and online Feb. 1. More information on the Youth Tour, including photos from the 2016 trip, is available under the community tab at www.firstelectric.coop.