Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) is fortunate to have the opportunity each year to send three local students on the Washington Youth Tour (WYT). The tremendous leadership program, sponsored by Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year and continues to transform young people’s lives.
BRMEMC’s 2014 delegates—Andrew Burch, Danielle Diehl and Rachel Todd—made the most of every moment during the weeklong adventure.
The 2014 tour brought the largest Georgia group ever—109 students and 16 chaperones journeyed to Atlanta from throughout the state to attend the kickoff banquet and begin the week of life-changing opportunities. The banquet was emceed by FOX 5 Atlanta’s Beth Galvin, the station’s medical team reporter and a WYT alumna.
State Rep. Brooks Coleman served as keynote speaker, a role he has played for more than two decades. Coleman, 75, is chairman of the Georgia House Education Committee, and his heart for young people is evident by the enthusiasm and passion he displays each year when he speaks to the students.
Before flying to Washington, D.C., the group toured President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga. During FDR’s frequent visits to Warm Springs, he became acquainted with the plight of rural Georgians living without electricity. As a result, he determined to make electricity available to all Americans by establishing the Rural Electrification Administration Act, which was signed at the Little White House.
Once in Washington, the WYT delegates are immersed in the history and culture of the nation’s capital. A nonstop schedule is designed to teach them lessons not duplicated in any classroom.
Highlights of the tour include stops at Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, MLK, WWII, Vietnam Veterans and Korean War memorials. The group also toured the U.S. Capitol, viewed the Declaration of Independence and visited the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and Smithsonian museums.
In addition to the monuments, museums and visits with members of Georgia’s congressional delegation, our students are always positively affected by the weeklong exposure to such a gifted group of fellow delegates. Because the group is composed of students from various walks of life, they learn to appreciate diverse points of view and accept different social, racial and cultural backgrounds.
Delegate Rachel Todd, a Union County High School student, says, “The caliber of students alongside me throughout the week constantly amazed me. The invigorating conversations I had with other delegates added a whole new level to the trip. It’s so refreshing and reassuring to know that there are other teens my age who do work hard and dream big.”
Remember, the students show up for this trip not knowing one another, which makes the transformation from complete stranger to treasured friend quite remarkable, as Hayesville High delegate Andrew Burch can attest. “The trip forced me out of my comfort zone and helped improve my social skills as a result of placing me in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by a large group of people I had never met,” he says. “After only one week of interacting with this incredible group of my peers, I had formed relationships that may last a lifetime.”
Ultimately, the goal of the tour is to impart lifechanging leadership qualities into each of the students’ lives. Towns County delegate Danielle Diehl shared a personal insight that highlights the tour experience. “Meeting these amazing young people who are talented in such a wide variety of areas that I know nothing about, I realized something about leadership,” she says. “Even though I pride myself on being a good leader, I discovered that I can’t be the best at everything. And, if I meet someone who is better than me at something, it’s important to let them lead.
“Leadership isn’t about always being in control. It’s about letting the person most capable lead and assisting them in any way possible because I won’t always be the most capable person.”
Now there is a lesson that all our leaders in Washington, D.C., could benefit from learning.