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Dimi Iles (far right) participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

Cumberland County High School rising senior Dimi Iles was among more than 140 students from electric cooperative service areas across Tennessee who boarded buses in June to travel to Washington, D.C. for the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour.

Dimi Iles of Cumberland County High School, Autumn Reagan of Pickett County High School, Deana Prok of Bradley Central High School, and Whitney Thomason of Midway High School were Volunteer Energy Cooperative’s representatives on the weeklong tour of Washington, D.C.

Iles, the daughter of Ken and Paula Iles, won her spot on the tour by writing a winning short story titled “Electric Cooperatives: Energizing Our Communities,” describing how locally owned, member-controlled electric cooperatives such as Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) provide valuable community-building support in addition to reliable and affordable electric service.

The Electric Cooperative Youth Tour is a joint effort of local electric co-ops such as VEC, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Each school year VEC sponsors a short story contest for high school juniors. Winners are awarded expense-paid trips to our nation’s capital the following June as part of the Washington Youth Tour.

This year’s trip ran from June 10-16 and included meetings with elected officials, visits to Washington’s popular tourist stops and time to meet winners representing other co-ops from across the state and from across the nation.

“These four young ladies represent some of the brightest and the best from throughout our service area and we’re thrilled we were able to provide them this once-in-a-lifetime trip to see D.C. and learn more about their member-owned electric cooperative,” said VEC’s Robert McCarty, who served as a chaperone. “This year’s tour was extremely enjoyable and successful and these students served as exemplary representatives of their hometowns and VEC.”

On the tour, students saw famous sites they have learned about in school, including the White House and memorials to past presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as monuments honoring the sacrifices of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. Strolls through the varied museums of the Smithsonian Institution afforded the students opportunities to learn more about science, history and art. Other fun stops included homes of former presidents — George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello — and a performance of “Sheer Madness” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The Youth Tour also included a solemn and sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where Iles was one of four Tennessee students who participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. The Tennessee group marveled at the precision and skill of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon at the Sunset Parade, performed in front of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial’s iconic statue re-creating the flag-raising over Iwo Jima.

No trip to Washington, D.C., would be complete without a lesson or two in government and civics. The group was treated to a special after-hours, VIP guided tour of the historic U.S. Capitol by Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City and a meeting on the Capitol steps with Tennessee’s senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Scott DeJarlias.

An annual treat, Tennessee’s Youth Tour delegation joined other trip winners from across the country for Youth Day on Monday, June 14. More than 1,500 students came together to swap stories of their Washington experiences. And Mike Schlappi, a four-time Paralympic medalist and two-time wheelchair basketball champion, returned for this year’s program to share his inspiring message for every American, young or old: “Just because you can’t stand up doesn’t mean you can’t stand out.”

“This is an outstanding program our cooperative sponsors to educate our youth on their hometown electric co-op,” said VEC President/CEO Rody Blevins. “Through this and similar educational opportunities made possible by VEC and our statewide and national organizations, our future member-owners experience first-hand how we energize their communities with special community-building programs as well as affordable electricity.”

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