Living & Learning

Living & Learning
Posted Apr 27th, 2023

Photo: SAEC Youth Tour delegates visited Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Pictured front row, from left, are Abbi Vickery and Elli Knighten. Second row, from left, are Paitin Riley, Elly Stevens and Elsie Clare Coppage. Back row, from left, are Ella Kate Tomlin, Lane Duett, Avery Williams, Jackson Cleveland, Leslyie Alonzo and Ian Herbert.

More than 150 outstanding high school juniors from all over Alabama recently spent time in Montgomery, visiting the state capital and enriching their lives through new experiences.

In March, South Alabama Electric Cooperative chose 11 delegates from the area to attend the 2023 Alabama Rural Electric Association Montgomery Youth Tour.

The annual trip gives high school juniors an inside view of how the state government operates, a history of cooperatives and how they function, and other experiences. Youth Tour delegates participated in exercises on how to manage finances and even met some state politicians.

The tour took students to notable sites in Montgomery, including the Alabama State Capitol, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the Alabama State House and the Alabama State Archives.

From the 11 delegates, Jackson Cleveland and Ian Herbert were chosen to represent SAEC and attend the 2023 Washington, D.C., Youth Tour.

Herbert, a junior at Zion Chapel High School, applied for the Youth Tour because a friend recommended it. “They were talking about what a great time they had, so I figured it would do me some good to get out here and see how the world works. The experience was way more than I could have ever asked for,” he says.

Cleveland, a junior at Pike Liberal Arts School, received an application at school. After some encouragement from his mother, he decided to apply to be a delegate. After learning he was selected, Cleveland says he was excited and anxious.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I would say I’m a very social person and I like to get to know new people. I was stressed about it at first, but ended up making a lot of new friends,” he says.

While he doesn’t quite know what he wants to do career-wise, Cleveland says the budgeting simulation session at Youth Tour helped open his eyes to how money works.

“It really showed me how hard you have to work in the real world just to make ends meet,” he says. The students were assigned jobs, complete with salaries and fake debit cards. They had to figure out how to budget their money in order to live.

Herbert says his favorite part of the tour was listening to Cea Cohen Elliott, a motivational speaker. She spoke about a variety of topics, including how even though everyone is different, people still deal with the same struggles.

“She really motivated me to do more. I’m probably going to start doing some community service projects,” he says. Elliott’s speech also highlighted the importance of taking action to help others. “The way you treat people can really impact others, and you have to be the person who is willing to stand up. I’ve never been one to really step in — I usually just mind my business. Now, I feel more of a sense of responsibility,” Herbert says.

Some of the discussion took a turn toward heavier topics around mental health.

“My heart felt so heavy,” Herbert says. “I’m a believer, and I know it’s our job as believers to be bold in our faith. I needed to let anyone know that I’m a safe place if they need to talk, and I’m willing to pray for them.”

Andy Kimbro, SAEC’s vice president of member services, gets to see firsthand how Youth Tour can inspire students in such a short period of time. “We truly believe we are forming leaders for the future,” he says. “It’s important that they get to learn about how our government works and how cooperatives work. SAEC is proud to play a role in helping these students develop leadership skills they will take into life.”

The Youth Tour delegates met with state Reps. Marcus Paramore, Chris Sells and Rhett Marques; Sen. Josh Carnley; Secretary of State Wes Allen; and former U.S. Rep. Martha Roby.

The idea to form the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour came from then-senator Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech during the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association annual meeting in 1957. He said, “If one thing comes 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.”

To be considered and chosen for Youth Tour, candidates had to apply and go through an interview process with an independent panel.

Cleveland and Herbert are both excited to represent SAEC at the 2023 Washington, D.C., Youth Tour in June. “It’s gonna be Montgomery on steroids,” Cleveland says.

“I don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited to see somewhere that’s not Alabama or Florida,” Herbert says.

Both students are thankful to SAEC for the opportunity to experience these trips. “It’s really just an honor,” Cleveland says.

“I’m grateful to everyone who gave us this experience and especially to my mom, who made sure I didn’t procrastinate and turned my application in on time,” Herbert says. 

Honoring Impressive Students

In 2022, Keldric Faulk and Jordan Saunders were selected as the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour winners. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were unable to attend the Youth Tour that year. In lieu of the trip, both students were awarded a $3,000 scholarship from SAEC. Congratulations to these two outstanding students!