“Every session of Y.E.S. every year is a little different, just because we have different kids and different personalities.” Abigail Klein captured some of the magic and uniqueness of the NRA Y.E.S. program in just one statement. Over the past 22 years of the National Rifle Association’s Youth Education Summit (NRA Y.E.S.), hundreds of students have experienced a week of learning, leadership, cultural immersion and camaraderie in the political center of the United States. NRA Y.E.S., sponsored by Friends of NRA and the NRA Foundation, is a week-long leadership program that seeks to educate the younger generations about the United States, history, government, firearm safety and the Second Amendment. Students participate in group debates, current event discussions, a tour of the NRA Firearms Museum, visit the National Mall and various other locations around Washington, D.C...and compete for the opportunity to secure thousands of dollars in scholarships.
Ninety-one high school juniors and seniors attended Y.E.S. this year, journeying to the capital from states as far as Alaska. The first summit boasted the program’s first ever attendee from Rhode Island. Traditionally, between 45 and 50 students are selected each year to attend the Summit, but interest from the NRA Board of Directors in response to personal letters from previous years' attendees, led to the expansion into two sessions this year.
Abigail Klein, NRA Y.E.S. program director, explained that “[we] really just wanted to open up to make sure more kids were receiving the opportunity to experience the program and really feel the impact we have.”
Klein noted that to try to keep the classes mixed, the goal was to have one student from each state, or at least two “per geographical region of the U.S.” in each session. This contributed to the various accents, lifestyles and backgrounds students brought to Y.E.S. with them.
Hunter Knight of Florida learned of NRA Y.E.S. from his dad, an NRA field representative for Florida. While Hunter had considered following in his father’s footsteps, his attendance at NRA Y.E.S. confirmed his desire to work for the NRA, most likely as a field representative. Knight found the trip a great opportunity and most enjoyed interacting with the other students, learning more about the inner workings of the government and discovering the variety of positions available and jobs within the NRA.
Jamie Day of Utah also discovered the Y.E.S. program through a family connection. Her sister, Sarah Day, had attended NRA Y.E.S. in 2016. Jamie related her mounting fears that the letter she received in the mail earlier this year was one of rejection. Upon opening the letter and discovering she was accepted, she found herself slightly nervous but overwhelmingly excited about the opportunity. Prior to the trip, Day knew that meeting other kids with similar values would be of great importance to her, as they had been to her sister. Jamie is a passionate hunter, pursuing elk, deer and rabbits alongside her family. Y.E.S. not only introduced her to kids involved in competitive marksmanship, but also made her aware of NRA programs like Eddie Eagle and School Shield that promote firearm safety. She found both of these programs ones that she may try to implement in her own community. Ultimately, the trip was full of surprises and new experiences—starting with Jamie’s first airplane flight and concluding with a personal change. Jamie recounted that, for her, Y.E.S. was “life changing,” inspiring her to be more involved with all of the NRA’s activities and to not fear voicing her opinion. This epiphany was greatly accentuated by the beauty of Washington, D.C., as Jamie found being in a place so filled with history and spirit awe-inspiring.
Alex Mrosko of Avon, Ohio made a very similar self-discovery. Alex noted that “I’ve been more open about talking about…the shooting sports with people I don’t know. Before I went on the Y.E.S. trip I was more…hesitant, now I’m more open to talking about it.” Alex attributes this change in perspective to the atmosphere at Y.E.S., where he found people with the same interest whom he could be comfortable with. As a high-power service rifle competitor, Mrosko was captivated by the Camp Perry display at the NRA National Firearms Museum, and greatly enjoyed the NRA Range. Regardless, the most special part of the trip for Alex, as it was for many of the attendees, was meeting like-minded kids from across the United States. Everyone had something different to share, something unique to teach someone else. Though everyone arrived with the same passion for liberty and for the United States, each one had a different way of showing it and telling their story. As Alex candidly put it, “At the end of the week, you just met them but it feels like you’ve known them forever.”
Offering another perspective, Sydney Whitkanack of Arkansas found the diversity of the group incredibly educational. It reminded her that “people come from all different walks of life and we have to learn to get out there. Yes, we are probably going to lose friends in voicing our opinions on different aspects but we have to be proactive and not let our rights get taken away from us.” As one of the four students chosen to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Whitkanack returned home inspired. She described the experience as “very humbling,” remembering the sacrifices so many service men and women have made “defending our families, rights and freedoms.”
These are only four of the 91 stories and experiences the 2018 NRA Youth Education Summit has provided attendees in 2018. (Look for interviews in this space with students from the second session of 2018 Y.E.S. to see how Y.E.S. has impacted those students as well!)
The truth is, the number of lives the NRA Y.E.S. program has impacted is truly immeasurable as each of these students has not only made connections with those in their class but also with Y.E.S. alumni and the friends and family of those they keep in touch with. One week, one opportunity, can really make a difference.