Passing Down Lessons

Montgomery Youth Tour delegates learn about the state’s rich history

Montgomery Youth Tour participants in 2020, front row from left, are Emma Martin, Hannah Seales, Mallory Hagler, Shelbie Chambers, Gracen Hodges, and Ally Price. Back row from left is Jake Faulk, Cole Sorrells, Will Birdsong, and Wade Reeder.

Passing along stories and traditions constitute a vital part of history, and the Wiregrass Electric Cooperative delegates to this year’s Montgomery Youth Tour embody that spirit.

Not only did the 10 delegates representing five high schools learn lessons about Alabama’s history and the role electric cooperatives played in it, but some also continued traditions inspired by family members or friends who experienced the Youth Tour before them.

“My older brother, Ian, went four years ago, and he really encouraged me to apply,” says Hannah Seales, a junior at Rehobeth High School. “Out of all the leadership events he attended, he said that was the one that gave him the most valuable lessons.”

“One of the girls that I’m friends with went two years ago, and she said she had a great time,” says Ally Price, a Slocomb High School junior. “When I found out about the possibility of going to Washington, D.C., I decided to apply.”

While other delegates had various reasons for applying to be a part of the Youth Tour, those selected experienced new sites, new lessons, and a new insight to life.

“One of Wiregrass Electric’s main goals is to inspire leaders in future generations,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC chief operating officer. “History lessons provide insight necessary to make informed decisions, and the Youth Tour employs those in fun and exciting ways. The Youth Tour also provides a great chance for character development through leadership seminars.”

Capital Gains

The delegates receive a lesson in state politics from Secretary of State John Merrill.

Being the capital of Alaba ma for the vast majority of its history, the birthplace of the Confederacy and a key cog in the civil rights movement makes Montgomery a historically significant place with many attractions. Youth Tour members from across the state sampled several of these, like the Civil Rights Memorial, the state Capitol building and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached regularly.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church represented Price’s favorite site visit. Fellow Slocomb classmate Emma Martin enjoyed the Capitol tour, where she witnessed a tenet of the First Amendment in action — the right to peacefully assemble.

Seales, like her brother, savored a visit to the Alabama House of Representatives to watch a legislative session in progress.

“I feel very educated and enlightened on governmental affairs,” she says. “On the last day we got to meet legislators like Rep. Jeff Sorrells and Sen. Donnie Chesteen.”

Trip organizers also presented insight into the history of Alabama’s electric cooperatives, which began forming in the 1930s to bring power to rural areas. Martin’s favorite historical tidbit occurred more recently, however.

“Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, went on the Youth Tour as a high schooler,” she says.

Developing Leaders

WEC representatives to the annual Montgomery Youth Tour at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery.

Youth Tour participants encountered more than history lessons, though, as Cea Cohen-Elliot led character development presentations, which provided Price with her most meaningful experiences.

“She was amazing. There was never a moment you were bored,” she says. “Everything she said made you evaluate your life.”

While Price says Cohen-Elliot’s most impactful message focused on making a difference no matter your age, Seales cites another valuable lesson the speaker stressed. “Cea’s main focus was being kind and breaking out of your friend group,” Seales says. “Being kind to people can be a matter of life and death for someone.”

The Process

The Youth Tour is open to high school juniors who fill out an application which gives information about the student from community service to academics and extracurricular activities in order to be considered for selection. A panel of local judges selects 10 delegates to attend the Montgomery tour.

After the delegates complete the tour, a panel of judges from outside the area conducts interviews with the 10 delegates regarding their Montgomery Youth Tour experiences and other factors. That panel then selects three delegates to attend the Washington, D.C., Youth Tour that the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association organizes each summer.

Judges selected Price, Seales and Martin for this year’s Washington, D.C., trip.

2020 WEC Youth Tour Delegates

  • Cottonwood High School — Shelbie Chambers
  • Geneva County High School — Will Birdsong and Cole Sorrells
  • Rehobeth High School — Hannah Seales
  • Wicksburg High School — Jacob Faulk
  • Slocomb High School — Mallory Hagler, Gracen Hodges, Emma Martin, Ally Price, and Wade Reeder