In My Opinion: The Youth Tour is the Beginning, Not the End, of a Journey

By Ruthie Christie

When I arrived in our nation’s capital for the 2006 Youth Tour, I believed I was embarking on the opportunity of a lifetime. One year later, that feeling remains strong, along with the experiences and the friendships the tour inspired.

I suspect the vast majority of the more than 1,400 participants in the 2006 Youth Tour — and the 40,000-plus who have taken part since the event began in the late 1950s — would agree.

The experience began during the application process, which presents an early opportunity for applicants to meet with their counterparts and competitors — our fellow ambitious peers — and to study co-op facts until dizziness sets in.

Those selected are truly on their way to a plethora of open doors and amazing friendships.

Our trip to Washington, D.C., was an eye-opener on the inner workings of our national government, the rich history our country calls its own, and the enormous potential of our future as a nation. We toured museums, exhibits, offices and memorials.

The tour opened our country’s capital to view in a behind-the-scenes way available to very few people. We were so busy that we barely had time to breathe!

Making the experience even more special, Youth Tour participants met countless high school students from across the United States who shared our small-town roots.

In this regard, I’d advise those who follow us not to be shy. My home state, Florida, took 22 Youth Tour representatives, and by the end of the week, we were all very close. Some states, like Texas and Tennessee, have even larger delegations, often bringing more than 100 kids.

I would recommend swapping MySpace. com URLs or e-mail addresses with everyone you meet and keeping in touch with them. After all, you may be working together in the White House someday.

Finally, I strongly encourage each and every Youth Tour participant to vie for their state’s spot on the Youth Leadership Council.

I’m glad I did, because representing Florida as the Youth Leadership Council delegate for the past year has been one of the most honorable and fun experiences I’ve ever had.

Council members, one from each state, have the chance to learn about the cooperative business model, grassroots advocacy, community service and careers in public service. We also get a chance to build leadership and public speaking skills.

Council members, and all Youth Tour participants, realize that we were selected for a reason, and that the people who chose us have faith in our ability to lead, communicate effectively, and make a positive difference in the world.

We appreciate their confidence and will strive to maximize the opportunity — while having some fun along the way.

Ruthie Christie, from Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., participated in the 2006 Youth Tour, sponsored by Choctawhatchee Electric Co-op, Niceville, Fla., and served as the 2006–2007 Youth Leadership Council representative from the Sunshine State.