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By Jennifer Harbin/The Hesperian-Beacon—
FLOYDADA—Area youth gathered on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16, at Lighthouse Electric Cooperative in Floydada for the annual Youth Tour Speech Contest. Every year since 1965, students from the Lighthouse Electric Cooperative service area compete for a week-long tour of Washington, D.C. to learn about the political process and meet their elected officials.
“Two winners will receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. to see their government in action. Each winner will also receive a $1,500 Youth Tour Scholarship from Lighthouse Electric Cooperative. One alternate will receive a $1,000 scholarship,” according to the official rules.
The local winners will be joined by other winners from across Texas in Washington, D.C. for seven days “touring places of historical interest, visiting members of Congress, and getting a first-hand view of their government in action.”
Mike Williams, President/CEO of Texas Electric Cooperatives summed up the spirit of electric co-ops and the Youth Tour eloquently in the 2019 Youth Tour Magazine:
“Since their founding more than 80 years ago, electric cooperatives across Texas have been committed to empowering the communities they serve. It’s what they do best. They not only provide power to homes and businesses but also invest time, energy and compassion into improving the quality of life in their communities. A sense of purpose has guided co-ops throughout their existence.
That same sense of purpose is what gave rise to the Government-in-Action Youth Tour. In 1965, Texas’ electric cooperatives joined forces to send a group of 58 deserving teens from across the state to Washington, D.C. There they joined their peers from across Co-op Country and met with their congressional representatives to discuss important issues and broaden their view of the world.
More than five decades later, electric cooperatives carry on the legacy of that first Youth Tour and continue to empower young people through the life-changing trip to Washington.”
These young Texans will join together, representing their hometowns and local cooperatives, Williams adds, and experience what then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson described in 1957 as an opportunity to “see what the flag stands for and represents.”
This year’s contestants were: Azalea Garza, daughter of Juan and Nancy Garza, of Floydada; Jax Ferrel, son of John Mark and Crysta Ferrel, of Memphis; Beverly Whitaker, daughter of Bert and Lori Whitaker, of Flomot; Ryder Glass, son of Bill and Sonya Glass, of Floydada; Tyann Phillips, daughter of Lacy and Tyler Phillips, of Lockney; and Yelena Serrato, daughter of Arnaldo and Juana Oneida Serrato, of Floydada.
Prior to the contest, the students were given a prompt: “If you could interview one person who currently lives in Washington, D.C., who would you interview and what questions would you ask them?”
On Sunday, each student appeared before an independent panel of judges to deliver their five to eight-minute speech, as well as answer three rural electric-related questions posed by the judges that was included in the application packet. The two winners, according to the rules, are “chosen based on the content of their presentation, their knowledge of electric cooperatives, their speaking ability, appearance and poise.”
This year, Ryder Glass and Tyann Phillips were chosen as the Youth Tour winners and will each receive a $1,500 scholarship and Azalea Garza was chosen as an Alternate, receiving a $1,000 scholarship.
The judges for the 2020 Youth Tour contest were Blake Moore of Lyntegar Electric Cooperative in Tahoka; Andy Stewart of Swisher Electric Cooperative; and Steve Horrell of Deaf Smith Electric Cooperative. The day’s activities were moderated by Lighthouse Electric Member Services Assistant Mark Green.
Counting this year’s winners, Lighthouse has sent 117 students to tour the nation’s capital since the program’s inception, according to Green.
He shared that the program is important, partly because many students haven’t been to Washington, D.C. and “they need to learn how our government works…It works better when we work together. We have Republicans, we have Democrats, we have Independents—they need to know that when we work together, we can work toward the common good of all the people.”