Local teens talk with state leaders

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Virtual Youth Tour

For students who spent their school year transitioning from distance learning to the classroom, Virtual Youth Experience was an appropriate way to begin their summer. In June, Abi Blankenship from Pendleton High School, Olivia Lee from Walhalla High School and Maggie Nolen from Wren High School were among 74 high-achieving students that participated in a week-long part web-conference, part in-person event sponsored by South Carolina’s electric cooperatives. The local teens selected by Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative used their laptops and smartphones to discuss issues of the day with four members of South Carolina’s Congressional delegation—U.S. Representatives James Clyburn and Nancy Mace and U.S. Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham. The students also got screen time with Rev. Charles Jackson of Brookland Baptist Church and State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. To conclude the week, they gathered at Fairfield Electric Cooperative to hear inspiring messages from South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and Chris Singleton—a former professional baseball player whose mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was one of nine killed in 2015’s Emanuel AME Church shooting. Blankenship commented on the week, “It was refreshing to meet with other like-minded students who love our country and are interested in making it better.” For Lee, the VYE was an unforgettable experience. She said, “Meeting and conversing with these politicians is something that most people never get to experience. I am so thankful to be provided with this opportunity.” A lesson on leadership was most valuable for Nolen, who said “I gained a lot of wisdom on how to not only be a leader, but a successful one.”

The students also spent the week in teams learning how to create and produce audio podcasts that complete the sentence: “This is my country….”  A group of S.C. journalists judged the podcasts and awarded $5,000 scholarships to each student in the winning group. The student podcasts are available online here.

The Virtual Youth Experience began last year when the risks of COVID-19 caused cooperative programs like the Rural Electric Youth Tour and the Cooperative Youth Summit to be canceled. The programs allow high school students to learn about electric cooperatives and how their government works.