Billed as a “trip of a lifetime,” she initially had some doubts.
Brooklyne Oliveira, now a senior at Godley High School, figured she’d have a good time, but wondered if the pitch for United Cooperative Services’ Youth Tour Contest to Washington, D.C., was probably just marketing hyperbole.
However, after going in the summer of 2015 with a group of 125 other Texas high schoolers and about 1,500 from across the country, she said the trip held true to its initial promise.
“They called this the ‘trip of a lifetime,’ over and over again,” she said. “Before the trip, you think that’s kind of cheesy. But after you go, you find out it’s really true. I can’t imagine not going and making the friends I made on the trip. I would do it all again if I could. It would be so fun.”
Each year, United sponsors two high school students from the service area for the national Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, a week-long event sponsored by electric co-ops since the late 1950s.
The unique trip will give attendees the opportunity not only to learn more about the history and importance of electric cooperatives, but also to meet their U.S. Congressional leaders and to watch history come alive as they explore the museums, memorials and monuments that the District has to offer.
Oliveira said she heard first heard about the contest from her mom, and then again at school from a presentation given by a United employee. Though she’d been to Washington, D.C., a couple of times before, she said she jumped at the chance to go again.
“I have always loved Washington, D.C.,” she said. “I love the city. It’s such a beautiful place with so much history. I thought to myself, ‘If I could win a trip to go and meet a bunch of new people, I would love to go again.’ It was kind of a no-brainer to apply.”
The application process required Oliveira, then a sophomore, to obtain two letters of recommendation and write a short paper on the seven guiding principles of United and other cooperatives as one of three possible essay topics.
Chelsea Avalos, the former debate coach and head of the English Department at Godley Independent School District, wrote one of Oliveira’s letters of recommendation.
Now an English Teacher at Granbury and a proponent of the Youth Tour, Avalos said she was more than happy to help Oliveira earn a spot to visit Washington and thought the Youth Tour was an excellent opportunity for all students who wish to see the nation’s capital.
“The Youth Tour is an excellent opportunity for student leaders like Brooklyne to meet with other likeminded kids from all over the country who want to learn about and experience Washington, D.C., up close,” Avalos said. “When she asked for a letter of recommendation, I was more than happy to oblige. Brooklyne is a phenomenal young lady. She’s mature beyond her years, and she’s a leader among leaders. She’s incredibly well-spoken and well-traveled. She has a strong moral compass and a better head on her shoulders than many of the adults I know.”
For her essay, Oliveira chose to cover the seven guiding principles that all cooperatives follow and explained why she thought these values are important.
“According to [Thomas] Jefferson, ‘Light and liberty go together,” she wrote in her essay. “Without an educated society, there can be no free society. Just as Thomas Jefferson recognized this truth over 200 years ago, United Cooperative works through its company values to preserve and maintain the foundation of the United States’ free society. In more ways than one, United Cooperative Services continue to provide light for families all over America today.”
While in the Nation’s capital, Oliveira said she learned about the importance and inner workings of electric cooperatives during the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s National Youth Day.
Oliveira said she also revisited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation house and estate. She and others took a boat trip down the Potomac River and enjoyed a dance party with students from other parts of the country.
The Newseum, an interactive museum promoting free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment, was a new and interesting addition to Washington since her last trip, she said. She also enjoyed seeing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time, which she described as a sobering, impactful and engaging experience.
“The sense of community from the other kids from Texas and the chaperones really made it feel like a fun group activity,” she said. “We would get time to explore the national mall, and then we’d meet up in one spot. I remember one day, we met in this one grassy area, and we were so exhausted with all the fun. Some of the kids were sleeping because they were so tired, and some of us hung out and just talked. That was a nice memory. It was a great community of kids.”
That’s the experience organizers hope all contest winners experience during the Youth Tour, said Jeff Pannell, key accounts/business development manager who oversees United’s Youth Tour contest.
“Most kids won’t have this opportunity to take this trip to Washington, D.C., without some sort of assistance,” Pannell said. “That’s what United is here to do, as we are fully vested in the communities we serve. I myself was fortunate enough to go on a trip to D.C. with my daughter, who was 10 at the time. I think my eyes were as big as hers during that whole time seeing the sights. She still brings it up to this day when we talk about favorite vacations.”
Pannell said he’s been impressed not only with the quality of the entries turned in by students from across the service area, but also meeting the students interested in learning more about electric co-ops and the United States.
“I think reading the essays has restored my faith and opened my eyes to the type of students we have out there who are willing to represent United,” he said. “I’ve been so impressed by some of the essays I’ve read during the last four years that I’ve sent a few of them to friends and family to enjoy. The students who take the initiative to participate in this contest are not your typical teens. It’s apparent that these students will someday be leaders in their communities and successful in whatever career path they choose. Who knows? The next CEO of United might be one of the kids that learned the value and importance of electric co-ops during the Youth Tour trip.”
From the education disguised as fun to the trips and tours and the friends she made and still talks with, Oliveira said she would go on the Youth Tour again —if only she wasn’t disqualified by having won once before.
“I would totally do it again,” she said. “I even asked one of the chaperones what it would take to help chaperone, too, because it was so fun. There’s not really a reason why you shouldn’t want to do it again.
“The only thing I wish was more people knew and would actually apply. A lot of kids won’t apply because they see it as more work to do. If people knew how worthwhile it is, writing the essay becomes totally worth it. You don’t have to put in a ton to get out a ton. The trip repays your effort 100 times over.”