On January 15, 2013, I first heard about the National Rifle Association’s Youth Education Summit program, in an NRA member email sent out to me. Y.E.S. offered scholarships, debates, and tours in Washington, DC – so I decided to look further into the application process.
I applied to the Pennsylvania Youth Education Summit in spring 2013, my sophomore year of high school, and was excited to be accepted into the program. That April, I stayed in Harrisburg, PA, where I became caught up in all of the learning experiences of our activities and trips. I left the 2013 Pennsylvania Y.E.S. program with gained skills, new friends, and a smile on my face.
Leading up to spring 2014, I checked the Friends of NRA website almost daily, constantly searching to see if the 2014 PA Y.E.S. application had been posted yet. When it was available, I eagerly reapplied and was selected to attend the summit for a second year. I worked my hardest, strove to do my best, and was rewarded with being selected as first place winner – and one of two students who would have the chance to attend the national summit in late June.
I knew the principles on which the Pennsylvania Y.E.S. program had been based: liberty, responsible citizenship, and leadership – but I was unsure what all to expect at National Y.E.S. I arrived at the destination hotel on the Monday of that week, wearing my green Y.E.S. T-shirt, my arms loaded with suitcases and bags.
Our Y.E.S. week began with “icebreakers,” which the majority of the evening consisted of. With new students sporadically arriving, it was difficult at first to memorize both everyone’s name and state of residence, but by the end of the evening, we had already come to know each other much better. We connected on a personal level through introductory games, where we learned new facts about each other and came to bond over some similar interests and experiences. We laughed and joked together through our games, already beginning to form friendships. After we discussed orientation and broke into our preassigned debate groups briefly, we headed up to our hotel rooms, eager for our first full day at the Youth Education Summit.
The next morning, we woke up and ate breakfast together, sharing our enthusiasm for the day to come – and our expectations were not let down! After several engaging discussions with speakers from programs such as Refuse to be a Victim and Eddie Eagle, we attended a mock Friends of NRA banquet put on by the Y.E.S. chaperones, complete with games and prizes.
One of the chaperones, Ms. McMahon, pulled me aside at lunch. I followed her into the lobby of NRA headquarters, unaware of why I had been taken out of the café – until it was explained to me that I had been chosen for an interview for the NRA News television show Cam & Co. I was thrilled about this perfect chance to represent my fellow Youth Education Summit attendees and to share my thoughts with viewers. Participating in the interview truly made me come to a greater realization of how much of a difference I can make, and motivate others to make. It was really rewarding for me to express my thoughts about my experiences thus far, and what had inspired me to join the Y.E.S. program myself. I returned to lunch reflecting on all the learning opportunities during our week that would lie ahead.
Following our mock banquet, we visited the NRA Firearms Museum and immersed ourselves in all that it had to offer, in all of the history, art, and culture that the exhibits there represented. I was impressed by the variety of firearms there, from old Gatling guns to modern rifles from recent movies. My fellow Y.E.S. participants and I shared our favorites and our enthusiasm about our firearm interests.
After that, we ventured down into the NRA Range, all awaiting the opportunity to try out some firearms for ourselves! New shooters quickly learned and came to enjoy our time at the range, and experienced shooters were excited to use unique firearms such as .22 M1911s, revolvers, AR-15 rifles, and more. Our adventures continued with an intriguing historical discussion at Manassas Battlefield, complete with a tour of the fields and a discussion of “Stone Wall Jackson” and his leadership. The evening concluded with a second short debate preparation session, before our dismissal.
Stay tuned for future parts of Victoria Hrach's experience at the 2014 NRA Youth Education Summit.