The Leaders of Our Future

By Safaniya Stevenson

Safaniya Stevenson

The month of June is perfect for vacations and festive family barbeques. But did you know June is also the month in which North Carolina’s future leaders start to take shape? As many high schoolers map out their summer plans while sitting by the pool, a select group of students are planning how to make their community and our world a better place in Washington, D.C.

Every year on the North Carolina Youth Tour, we take more than 35 students on the summer trip of a lifetime. These students are hand-selected by their electric co-ops to represent their families, their communities, and our state. With each new group of Youth Tourists, we are reminded of the great leadership qualities high school students possess. Driven. Passionate. Creative. Innovative. Those are just a few words that come to mind when asked to describe the students we meet each year. It takes a lot of courage and dedication to give up a week of your last summer as a high school student to go to an unfamiliar place with a bus full of strangers.

The caliber of students selected to take the weeklong tour of D.C. never ceases to amaze us. During this 50-year tradition, we’ve seen students blossom into active and engaged community members and leaders. Take Jacob Brooks, sponsored by Blue Ridge Energy in 2009 (who many of you know from “Jacob’s Log” in this publication), who now teaches STEM to at-risk students in Nashville. Some come back to the co-op world as adults and find careers like Julia Allsbrook, a 1998 Youth Tourist who currently works as communication specialist with Halifax Electric Membership Cooperative. And others are inspired to find careers in public service, like Ray Starling, sponsored by South River EMC in 1995, who was recently appointed special assistant to the president for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance. Whether students participate on the Youth Tour in 1967 or in 2017, each who participates has so much potential to go on to do whatever they set their mind to.

For the students, this trip is more than a visit to the Capitol Building. It’s more than a week away from mom and dad. This trip is a chance for our young adults to explore what kind of students they want to be and what kind of leaders they want to be. Youth Tour provides an opportunity to network with students from across the country. They build connections with other young leaders who want to grow and make an impact, whether that impact be small or large.

After spending a week with these students, I regain my sense of hope in what the future holds. These students explore D.C. with such wonder. They ask hard questions and are receptive of hard answers. They give to the needy. They document, they learn. You can see the wheels turning in their heads about what they can do to improve not only their situations but the situations of others. But these students, with their newly found sense of leadership, typically don’t head to D.C. to start careers. They come right back home to North Carolina.

As a co-op member, you don’t have to look to D.C. to find your next leaders. Just take a look in your own community.

About the Author

Safaniya Stevenson, community relations sxpecialist for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, manages the North Carolina Youth Tour program.

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