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Coopportunity: 2018 Rural Electric Youth Tour



Over 1,800 of rural America’s outstanding high school students traveled to Washington, D.C. to gain an understanding of the pollical process, interact with their elected officials, see history up close and learn more about electric cooperatives. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s (NRECA) Youth Tour has been a tradition for 53 years. From June 10th – 15th, delegates, chaperones, and staff from 46 states travelled to Washington, D.C. to hear from NRECA speakers and congresspersons, as well as have guided tours of America’s historical places. United Electric Cooperative chose eight outstanding students from our territory to represent our cooperative: Kieran Bunnell, Thad Butler, Brooke Holben, Cecilia Manno, Luke Poole, Hannah Rittenhouse, Kenneth Stover, III and Marissa Wheeler.

June 11th was this year’s Youth Day for all attending students. Youth Day consists of engaging speakers and state-to-state socialization not only by talking, but by students exchanging their states’ pins and stickers. Jim Matheson, NRECA CEO, spoke to students about making sure they are doing what they can for their communities and remembering to exercise their right to vote not only in national elections, but local ones as well. Also as speakers this year were two previous youth tour students that are now interning at NRECA. The word, “Coopportunity” was minted by these students to remind the current youth tour delegates that anything is possible when you broaden your horizons. Students also heard from Bobby Von Bokern, a journeyman lineman at Owen Electric Co-op in Kentucky about his time spent in Haiti for NRECA International. Bobby had a slideshow of photos and a few videos of everyone coming together to “get the lights on” for a small village in Haiti. He left the students with an exceptional quote: “The work you put in right now distinguishes who you are going to be for the rest of your life.” Once again in the Youth Day line-up, students heard from two-time Paralympic medalist Mike Schlappi. He always discusses his entire life, including the shooting accident committed by his best friend that left him without the use of this legs. Mr. Schlappi stresses to all the students every year that their voice matters and even if you can’t stand up you can stand out.

Following Youth Day, Pennsylvania and New Jersey students were treated to arcade gaming, good food, and Coop themed scavenger hunts at Dave & Buster’s. This provides the students some time to get acquainted since the Pennsylvania/New Jersey group has grown so large. Prizes were awarded to the top three teams and all the students seemed to be more comfortable with each other following this event. Throughout the week, the Pennsylvania/New Jersey students visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian Museums, the News Museum (Newseum), Madame Tussuads Wax Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Udvar-Hazy Space Center and various monuments. Also on the itinerary was a visit to the Washington National Zoo, Union Station, and various NRECA sanctioned events for every states’ students to mingle with each other.

In addition to touring our nation’s capital, students also get to meet with their congressperson for a question/answer session. All of United’s students met with United States Representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional district, Glenn “GT” Thompson. Congressman Thompson arranged for us to meet in a much larger room than his office since his group of students is always one of the biggest. Students asked a considerable amount of questions this year with a wide range of topics including the Domestic Violence Abuse Act and its funding, gun control in conjunction with mental health and schools and the Farm Bill and its provisions for dairy farmers.

More than 51,000 students from all over rural America have participated NRECA’s Youth Tour program. The Rural Electric Cooperative Youth Tour was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 as way to educate young minds on the reasons behind a cooperative and its principles. Students in Pennsylvania that have attended the Youth Tour are eligible every year they are in a system of higher education to apply for the Jody Loudenslager scholarship offered through the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association. Ms. Loudenslager was a 1995 Pennsylvania Youth Tour participate from Trout Run, PA. She was among the 230 passengers killed on July 17, 1996 when TWA flight 800 exploded after take-off from New York. Jody was committed to high education, whatever form it takes and believed that Youth Tour instilled the importance of electric cooperatives and the values they represent to the next generation of leaders.

Meet the Students

Kieran Bunnell attends Curwensville Area Jr/Sr. High School and is the son of Lance and Vickie Bunnell of Olanta. Kieran participates in Spanish club, envirothon, Nation Honor Society and literature club. He also coordinates Logs to Lumber meetings and served as the secretary for 3 years. He plans to continue studying math and science with a career in engineering.

Thad Butler attends Clearfield Area Jr/Sr. High School and is the son of James and Ann Butler of Frenchville. Thad participates in key club, track and student council. His special interests include band, cross-country, and Spanish honor society. Thad plans to pursue a career as a pediatric doctor.

Brooke Holben attends Jefferson County-DuBois Area Vocational-Technical School and is the daughter of Scott and Michelle Holben of Brookville. Brooke participated in color guard and Skills USA. She also volunteers for her local Christmas banquets and fall festivals. Brooke currently studies Audio and Video Production and would like to become a military combat videographer.

Cecilia Manno attends Brockway Area Jr/Sr. High School and Conserve School in Wisconsin. She is the daughter of James and Jackie Manno, Jr. of Brookville. Cecilia participates in concert and marching bands, Dale Carnegie leadership training, musicals and Scholastic Challenge. She also volunteers with her local bible school and church youth group. Cecilia has a major interest in environmental stewardship/sustainability and would like to obtain a career in conservation leadership.

Luke Poole attends Punxsutawney Area High School and is the son of LouAnn Poole of Oliveburg. Luke participates in student government, cross-country, tennis, and cheer. He also volunteers his time through Key club, choir and the Punxsutawney Theatre Arts Guild. Luke is very interested in music and politics and is undecided on a career goal at this time.

Hannah Rittenhouse attends Clarion-Limestone High School and is the daughter of Joe and Shannon Rittenhouse of Brookville. Hannah participates in cross country, volleyball, track and basketball. Hannah would like to pursue a career goal of becoming a nutritionist and personal trainer.

Kenneth Stover, II attends Glendale Jr/Sr. High School and is the son of Teresa Dixon of Coalport. Ken is involved in marching, concert, jazz, and district bands and participates in soccer. Ken has a major interest in computer programming and ultimately wants to be become a successful game developer.

Marissa Wheeler attends DuBois Area High School and is the daughter of Edward and Delores Wheeler of Penfield. Marissa is involved in chorus, tennis and National Honor Society. She also volunteers with her local church’s youth group and is employed at Hoss’s. Marissa is interested in the medical field and would like to become either a trauma surgeon or an anesthesiologist.


On behalf of the United Electric Board of Directors and myself, I want to thank this year’s students for representing United Electric so well.


Brenda Swartzlander
President & CEO

Stephen Marshall
Chairman of the Board





FDR Memorial

United’s Youth Tour students enjoying the water features at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Back, from left: Kenneth Stover, II; Marissa Wheeler; Hannah Rittenhouse; Luke Poole; Cecilia Manno; Brooke Holben; Kieran Bunnell Front: Thad Butler


Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial at night. This year’s Iwo Jima Sunset parade was held at the Lincoln Memorial due to renovations at the Iwo Jima Memorial.



Youth Tour offers high school juniors the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. for a week and experience all the beauty and history of the nation's capital. Each student is also eligible for the Jody Loudenslager Scholarship as well as the chance to be selected as the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Outstanding Youth Tour Student of the Year.


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