“If one thing goes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents,” Johnson said.
Co-op employees took him up on it, and a few months later, in Texas, the Youth Tour was born.
That Youth Tour has mushroomed to today's Electric Cooperative Youth Tour, so that for seven days this June, 1,500 high school students from across the country, 24 of them from Colorado, won an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., including Benasutti, who will be a senior this fall at Ridgway High.
Benasutti was awarded the trip from the San Miguel Power Association for an essay she submitted on ways to conserve energy in your school.
The trip was part of the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour program, which has been in existence since the 1950’s, and is paid for by electric co-operatives in 47 states.
Its purpose: To give attendees an up-close look at politics, government, and, not incidentally, the importance of energy and the history of electric cooperatives.
In Washington, the students toured the national monuments and met their state representatives; the Colorado group chatted with Senators Udall and Bennett, and Representatives Gardener and Tipton. Representative Tipton even gave the students a peek at the Washington Mall from a private balcony. Benasutti says she had a fabulous time. “It was an amazing opportunity” to meet her senators and representatives, she says. “It’s a completely different experience to see how things are run in Washington” instead of just trying to picture what that’s like, she adds.
The experience made her think about what it means to be an American. Earlier this year, Benasutti won an award for an essay she wrote on patriotism, so she has done plenty of thinking, and expressing herself, about what being an American means. Are budding patriots chosen to attend the Youth Tour, or do they turn patriotic once they go? It almost doesn’t matter. Like a young democracy, the Tour has grown from a handful of students from Texas in 1957, to 34 more from Iowa in 1958, to ten from Illinois, and so on, to the size it is today.