Abby Larsen, who will be a senior at Milaca High School in the fall, poses with a backpack full of a variety of pins she traded for while attending the Rurual Electric Youth Tour in mid-June in Washington, D.C.

Abby Larsen went to Washington, D.C., hoping to meet new friends, enjoy new experiences and learn more about the political process. Mission accomplished.

Larsen, who will be a senior at Milaca High School in the fall, was one of 37 Minnesota students selected to attend the Rural Electric Youth Tour from June 15-20. Larsen and Gavyn Jensen-Schneider were the only two representatives sent through East Central Energy.

The Tour is open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. On the Tour, they participate in leadership training, engage in one-on-one conversations with elected officials, jump-start their national peer network and tour the nation’s capital.

The six-day trip helps students understand American government and its role in the history of rural electric cooperatives.

“It was so fun. I was nervous at first,” Larsen said. “But everybody was in the same boat. Nobody knew each other before the trip. The people were so nice that I met. It was cool to be there with people that are interested in the same stuff as you are. Most of them are in sports, but most of them were also in band and choir. I met people that I still talk to. I’ve hung out with some of them since the trip.”

As if Larsen wasn’t busy enough – she is involved in volleyball, softball, National Honor Society, band, marching band and choir – just getting to Washington was a major feat.

After completing a lengthy application, Larsen completed an essay with hopes of getting selected.

Larsen was in the top five after the essay process and earned her expense-paid trip after her interview. The purpose of the Youth Tour is for the attendees to learn about how rural cooperatives work,

“The principle that most distinguishes a cooperative business from others is democratic member control,” Larsen wrote. “It’s the foundation on which the co-op is built, ensuring that every action taken will serve the members’ needs. At ECE, the directors are elected by members to guide the business of the cooperative. It’s a unique arrangement that puts power in the hands of the members and exemplifies the co-op advantage.”

This wasn’t exactly a leisurely vacation. The itinerary started about 7 a.m. and ended about 11 p.m., with trips to national landmarks, visits with elected officials and even a performance of “Hello, Dolly!” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The group also saw the National Museum of the Marine Corps, explored Old Town Alexandria and could tour the Smithsonian Museums of their choice.

The one-on-one time with elected officials was limited due to their busy schedules, but students did get a chance to meet Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and see Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Senate gallery.

Getting to see and hear history, along with meeting new friends, made it all worthwhile for Larsen.

“Milaca is kind of small, so it was a huge opportunity to meet people who I’m now friends with,” Larsen said. “I’m taking a national government class online at college, so I think what I learned on this trip will help me a lot this year.

“I didn’t know a lot about rural cooperatives, so it was cool to learn about how they give back to their people. Youth Tour is a way to give back with the money they earn. There is so much to learn in D.C., it was crazy.”

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