Thursday, June 20, 2019

Youth Tour 2019 ... in the books!

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Our last day in Washington DC started with breakfast being delivered to our rooms. We got dressed in our red polos and headed to Capitol Hill. We started out by getting photos in front of the capitol building. Dalton Schmit, 2012 Iowa Youth Tourer, stopped by and talked with the students. He now works for Facebook in Texas. The students had fun quizzing him about current Facebook policy topics. We then spilt into our congressional districts and met with each of our House Representatives. The students were able to engage and cover a variety of current political topics with their legislators.

Next, we took a guided tour of the US. Capitol building led by staff members from Senators Grassley and Ernst’s offices. Lunch was held at the NRECA townhouse, which is just a short walk from the Capitol Hill. We had pizza and cooled off in the A/C. Following lunch, we all visited the Library of Congress. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst met with the group on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in front of the Senate Chambers. The Senators fielded many questions and everyone seemed to have a really good time. This experience really immerses them in politics and personalizes the process. 

The Embassy of Portugal agreed to host the Iowa Youth Tour group. They allowed us to tour their embassy. Additionally, they had a diplomat that talked to the students about Portugal and the EU. 

The evening was spent at the Newseum where all the states came together for a farewell event. The Newseum was privately rented for Youth Tour. With close to 2,000 people in this museum, there were a lot of memories made and more pin trading. The Newseum highlights the importance of the first amendment. 

We arrived back at the hotel around 9 pm. The snack co-op held its annual meeting and the chaperones gave out awards to each of the students. The night ended with lots of tears and emotions as the students talked about their experiences and newly formed friendships over the last week. Will won the Amazon gift card for the most collected pins. 

Today, Thursday, June 20th, the wake-up call was at 5:00 am and we took one last bus ride with Rob to the airport. This trip has truly been an amazing experience for the students and they will have the memories and friendships for a lifetime. It has been fun to be a chaperone and to view the trip from a different perspective. Rural Electrical Cooperatives are a necessity for our communities and they are consistently giving back to their members. On behalf of the students and myself thank you to all the cooperatives that sponsored students. Additionally, thank you, Shelly, for your hard work and organizing such a great trip. Welcome back to Iowa everyone! 

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Another busy day in the US Capital!

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

We had our last breakfast at Crystal City Pub Grill. From there we headed to the National Cathedral. This building is magnificent and the second largest cathedral in the United States. After the National Cathedral, we enjoyed sack lunches on the bus.

We took a tour of Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Right across the street from Ford’s Theater is Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Everyone really seemed to enjoy this stop with lots of opportunity for fun photos.

The Arlington National Cemetery was our next stop. Shelly says this is her favorite stop on the entire trip. It is such an honor to be able to pay tribute to all of our service members that have made sacrifices to ensure our nation’s safety. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24/7, 365 days a year. We were able to watch the changing of the guards twice. Additionally, Ellie, Sabrina, Jacob, and Jack had the honor of laying a wreath at the tomb. They conducted themselves very professionally and represented Iowa Youth Tour very well.

Dinner was had at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl. Part of our meal was bottomless chili cheese fries and a milkshake. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a historical restaurant that has had many visits from prominent figures such as Barack Obama, Jimmy Fallon, and Bruno Mars. We took a group photo in front of the diner with the late owner's wife.

Unfortunately, it started to rain and the planned sunset parade was canceled. However, the rain didn’t stop us and we headed from dinner to the Pentagon to view the 9/11 memorial. Shelly, the great planner, had ponchos for everyone.

We called it a day and went back to the hotel. Due to the planned rain overnight, Senator Grassley had to cancel his 3 mile run with the students tomorrow morning. It is very unfortunate, but everyone will have the chance to meet with their congressional representatives tomorrow on Capitol Hill. We are coming to the end of our trip with one full day left in Washington D.C. These young adults have conducted themselves well and represented all their cooperatives respectively.

Clayton Merritt,
Youth Tour Intern

What a GREAT day!

Monday, June 17th, 2019

There were a lot of long, tired faces in the lobby this morning. However, after breakfast, coffee, and a little bus choir practice, everyone perked up. Rob drove us to the Lincoln Memorial after breakfast at Crystal City Sports Pub.

The Lincoln Memorial and the Korean Memorial are near each other. We visited both and took many pictures. While at the Lincoln Memorial, the United States Marine Corps were having drill practice. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where some of our country's greatest leaders have stood, is such a historical view of our nation that gives you chills (even when it’s 90 degrees and humid).

Since it was very windy our first day, Shelly was able to reschedule our paddle boat rides on the Tidal Basin. The students loaded the paddle boats and spent the better part of an hour on the water. For anyone that thinks paddle boating is easy, think again. It’s a workout! Everyone was getting their daily dose of sunshine today!

From the paddle boats, we spent the better part of the day in small groups touring The National Mall. The National Mall is the location of Washington D.C.’s most popular museums like the Smithsonian’s, and many of the most iconic monuments. In conjunction with the Lincoln Memorial, all the student toured the relatively new National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum highlighted the importance of African American culture and their hard-pressed battle to fight oppression. Following the African American Museum, the students visited a variety of museums such as The National Air and Space Museum & The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

We all came back together to go through the National Archives Museum where our nation’s founding documents are kept and displayed. Yet, the most “humbling and eye-opening” experience that everyone had today was visiting the Holocaust Museum. Thoughts about the Holocaust Museum are hard to put into words, but this particular memorial pulls the heartstrings and 100% humanizes this awful part of our history.

Rob picked us up at the Holocaust museum and drove us back to the hotel. We had dinner back at the hotel with about a thousand other youth tour students from many other states. (there are about 1,800 youth tour students out here in total plus 200 chaperones) Texas brings the most students, about 150. Whereas, Alaska only sends one student.

The next journey for the everyone was Youth Tour Day held right here in the basement of our hotel. This event included many uplifting, empowering, and inspirational speakers that coincided with this year’s theme; ELEVATE. We were able to hear from NRECA’s CEO (Jim Matheson), a line worker that has been to Haiti twice to help build electrical cooperatives in the poverty-stricken area, and our very one Sarah Herz had some stage time as she introduced herself as this year’s Youth Leadership Council delegate from Iowa. The final motivational speaker was Mike Schlappi. Mike was paralyzed from the waist down from as a teenager after being accidentally shot by his friend. Mike tells his story about how he went on to graduate college, win 4 Olympic medals, and many other extraordinary achievements. I would really suggest looking him up on YouTube and watching one of his motivational speeches, he may change your life.

FUN FACT: Apple CEO, Tim Cook, went on Youth Tour when he was in high school.

The students ended the day with more pin trading. Whenever any student sees a student from another state, they swarm each other and begin to trade pins. It truly is a neat experience and the world’s best ice breaker. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that the Iowa students grew up together, that is how close they have become on this trip. In fact, they are already planning reunions. Lifelong memories are being made but best of all these young adults are forming friendships that will last a lifetime.

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Day 3 in DC started with breakfast at Crystal City Pub Grill. Rob, the bus driver, ate breakfast with us and we headed to the Albert Einstein Memorial. At the Einstein Memorial, we took a group photo. We then walked across the street to the Vietnam Memorial. The students were able to find the names of fallen soldiers that are from their home towns. Once the names were located, the students did a rubbing of the name to transfer the name over to a piece of paper. Additionally, on Father’s Day each year they pass out roses to be laid at the memorial. The students described the experience as breathtaking and left them speechless.

Following the Vietnam Memorial, we headed to Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s plantation. The students gained firsthand experience of colonial life and how the first president lived. We took a guided tour through George Washington’s mansion. We ended up spending 3 hours there.

Rob picked us up with the air conditioning on full blast. It was hot and sunny today. Shelly had a surprise for the students at the next stop, The National Harbor. They got to ride the giant Ferris wheel that had a very scenic view over the city.

After spending some time at the harbor, we headed across the bridge to Alexandria for a 3-hour boat cruise. Iowa joined the South Dakota, South Carolina, Kansas, and Hawaii groups. This boat cruise was a giant party with food and great music. The students laughed and danced until they were sweaty messes. Iowa and South Carolina had a dance off, Jack rocked it. You can find a short clip of the cruise on Facebook.

The night ended with showers for everyone and playing cards with the other states in the game room at the hotel. I did not do any dancing, but I am exhausted from watching them, so I am signing off and going to bed. I am not sure who is currently winning the pin collecting contest, but I imagine Will remains in the lead. I guess he has formed an alliance with a couple of students, so he had triple the amount of Iowa pins and corn necklace to trade. We have an early start tomorrow with a wake-up call at 6:15 am.

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Our first FULL day in DC!

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

6:45 am came early. We headed over to the Crystal City Pub & Grill where we ate a delicious breakfast buffet. Rob met us with the bus and we drove over to The National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico. One of the students brought a Bluetooth speaker which led to a lot of group singing on the way to Quantico. We have a lot of talented singers! The students spent 2 hours touring the exhibits at the Marine Corps. It was honestly breathtaking walking through all the different war exhibits and seeing the sacrifice and bravery of so many marines. We ate a sack lunch within the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Devil Dog Diner.

Following the Marine Corps was the Navy Memorial, where we took a lot of pictures
We then went and paid tribute to the nation’s fallen police officers at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

We spend the entire afternoon with Amy Gold. Amy Gold is a must-have in the world of tour guides. She is witty, quirky and very knowledgeable about Washington D.C. Amy took us on a very detailed and enjoyable tour of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, WWII Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. Additionally, we spent time outside of Capital Hill and The National Mall. While at the MLK Memorial, we were able to meet service members from Texas that were on an Honor Flight.

We dropped Amy off around 6 pm and headed to the Union Station food court for dinner. Everyone was able to browse the different options. After supper, we headed back to the hotel for a night of games and more mingling with other state groups. Shelly, DJ, and Zach conducted the Youth Leadership Council (YLC) interviews. YLC is an opportunity for a student from each state to return to further develop their leadership skills.

Throughout the day, we met other Youth Tour groups from Kansas, Hawaii, Mississippi, California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Utah. Each state has state-specific pins that the students trade. The goal is to collect the most pins from other states. At the end of the trip, the person with the most pins earns a $50 Amazon gift card. However, Iowa Youth Tourer's have a bargaining advantage with yellow corn necklaces and state pins. So far, Will Rasmussen from the Pella Cooperative Electric Association is winning the pin challenge.

If you guys didn’t catch on from the Facebook videos, we had a LOT of great singing on the bus rides. I think when we get back home these students should come together to form a 2019 Youth Tour Choir. Although Washington D.C. is really fun, we are all looking forward to sleeping in till 7:30 am tomorrow.

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

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We've arrived in DC!!

Friday, June 14th, 2019

Wow, what a busy last 30 hours! Yesterday we spent the evening at the Holiday Inn going over the trip details, playing games, forming the Snack Cooperative (which is a big deal), saying goodbye to the parents, and getting to know each other. After a short sleep, we departed the hotel at 4:30 am and headed to the airport. For many of the students, this was their first time flying. However, we made it through security and boarded our plane without a hitch. We had a two-hour layover in St. Louis and arrived at the Reagan National Airport a little after 12 pm.

As a group, we met up with Rob Taylor, our bus driver. Rob is a Maryland State Trooper and takes a week off each year to drive a tour bus for the Iowa Youth Tour group. Rob had already picked up subway sandwiches for everyone, so we loaded the bus, ate our lunch, and headed to the White House.

Rob dropped us off at the White House. The students walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and had a chance to get photos of the north side of the White House. A big group photo was taken and is posted on Facebook! After the White House, we headed back to the bus. Rob then drove us to The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

After we visited The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, Shelly York handed out flyers with a photo scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was a two-hour long adventure of posing in front of certain monuments, solving riddles, and even making human pyramids!! It was a good chance for the individual groups of 7 or 8 to bond and get to know each other better. The scavenger hunt took place at The National Mall. It provided the students with the first previews of some of the museums. Following the scavenger hunt, we were supposed to paddle boat on the Tidal Basin. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. The gusty winds were causing rough waters, so the paddle boats were closed for the day. Have no fear, Shelly is awesome and has rescheduled the activity for Monday!

We walked around the Tidal Basin and visited the Jefferson Memorial. Following the Jefferson Memorial, Rob drove us to Hill Country BBQ. At Hill County BBQ we had a family style dinner that consisted of BBQ chicken sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and cookies. The meal was recommended by one of our chaperones, Haley Moon. It was delicious and filling. Once again, Rob loaded us back up and bussed the group over to the U.S. Air Force Memorial. While at the Air Force Memorial, service members were putting on a free concert and they sounded AMAZING.

We arrived at our hotel around 7:30 pm. The snack cooperative board members went to the local store to purchase snacks. We spent the rest of the evening in a privately rented room playing games and just having fun. As it got closer to 10 pm, everyone started to wear down and looked like they were ready for bed. I suggest getting some sleep, wakeup call is at 6:45 am!

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

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Monday, June 3, 2019

Guest Blogger > Clayton Merritt

Hey everyone! We are now counting down the days until we depart Iowa for Washington DC! Oh, how thing have changed since the first group of students embarked on this incredible journey in 1958! One thing that hasn’t changed is the amount of fun and opportunity that this trip has presented students each year since. Being a youth tour alum, I remember the excitement and nervousness about this upcoming trip. You were selected for this trip because you all display citizenship, community involvement, academic achievement, and an interest in history and politics. These personality types mix well. I can tell you from experience that you will have no problem developing and maintaining friendship during this trip! 
During the summer of 2012; I was headed into my senior year of high school, working a part-time job, studying for my ACT, and oh yeah... gearing up for Youth Tour!! I had no idea the trip I was getting ready to take would change my outlook on life, form new friendships, and deepen my interests in history and politics. I remember meeting at the Magnuson Hotel the night before we flew out for orientation. I had been to orientations before (long and boring). This was unlike any orientation I had ever been to, it was a night filled with games, conversation and truly getting to know the people that we were going to be spending the next week with. Your Youth Tour Director, Shelly York, has a way about herself that will put everyone at ease. We flew out the next morning and well the rest is history. You learn about the monuments, landmarks, cemeteries, and museums in textbooks and on TV. However, you can never really appreciate the sacrifice and dedication that many historical figures made to ensure the success of future generation until you’ve seen these places in person. You will be able to connect your knowledge of cooperatives and the need to continuously advocate on their behalf. The wax museum, jogging with Senator Grassley, visiting the White House, spending a day on Capitol Hill, and paddle boating on the Potomac River are a few of my favorite memories from this trip. I could type a mile-long page about all the fun I had on Youth Tour. Now, it’s your turn!

I am excited to go back again and can’t wait to see how this trip will transform each and every one of you!! Additionally, bring your walking shoes and deodorant as there is a lot of ground to cover and lots to see! 

Clayton Merritt
Youth Tour Intern

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