Two Hardy County high school seniors met West Virginia’s two U.S. senators and lobbied for rural telecommunications issues during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.
East Hardy High’s Chelsea Wilson and Moorefield High’s Tori Burdette traveled to our nation’s capital for a four-day trip in early June. They joined 106 other students from around the country in the Foundation for Rural Service Youth Tour. Hardy Telecommunications paid all expenses for Chelsea and Tori, and all of the students were sponsored by rural telecommunications companies. In addition to seeing the historical sites, the two students met with Democratic Senators John D. Rockefeller IV and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. They told the senators about the different ways they use broadband high-speed internet and the valuable community service provided by rural telecommunications companies like Hardy Telecommunications.
Both Chelsea and Tori have been members of Hardy’s Youth Advisory Board. Students on the board are taught about online and smartphone safety and security, how the wireless industry relies on a wireline backbone network and other telecommunications issues.
The FRS group also visited the offices of the Federal Communications Commission, where three of the four current commissioners addressed the students about such issues as broadband availability and adoption in rural areas, media ownership and balancing standards of decency with the right to free speech.
The students also heard from Daniel Kent, who while a middle-school student in Indiana in 2003 started Senior Connects, a non-profit organization dedicated to using high school and college student volunteers to teach senior citizens how to use the Internet. Kent and fellow students have since expanded their premise to create Net Literacy, which combines Senior Connects with three other programs: Safe Connects, which promotes online safety; Community Connects, which brings computer access and training to inner-city housing developments; Financial Connects, which teaches financial literacy through web videos and interactive games; and Computer Connects, which offers computer training and access to young children whose families cannot afford their own computer.
Mr. Kent has been recognized for his efforts by multiple U.S. presidents and other elected officials.
Chelsea wrote after the tour that Kent’s presentation made a lasting impression.
“The most important lesson learned … was that if we all work together and get involved, something that starts out small can turn into something big,” she said.
Chelsea also praised the tour’s balance of education and fun.
“While we toured the city we were constantly learning, learning about the history of the United States and how telecommunications in rural areas is important to our needs,” she said.
As part of that experience, the students learned about the unique challenges involved in bringing modern, affordable telecommunications to sparsely populated rural areas where many big companies are not interested in providing service. That led to the Hardy County students meeting with Senators Rockefeller and Manchin, during which they urged the senators to promote federal programs and regulations that will support rural telecommunications and not leave rural students behind in favor of urban students.
The FRS Youth Tour also provided an in-depth tour of Washington, D.C. The students visited the Smithsonian Museums, Arlington National Cemetery, the National Cathedral, Mount Vernon, the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam, Korean, and World War II veterans memorials.
Tori said in thanking Hardy Telecommunications that the opportunity was one she’ll never forget.
“Using one word to describe my experience at D.C. would be `amazement,’” she said. “… For me, this was as if I had won the lottery. … Most importantly, this experience will help me grow as a person.”
Chelsea had similar sentiments.
“The friendships made will last a lifetime,” she said. “I am so glad I was able to participate in this experience.”