Empowering the Communities We Serve
By Susan Flythe
I have a rewarding job. Like others working for the 26 electric cooperatives across the state, I walk into the office every day knowing that whatever may be on my plate will ultimately better my community. Because as unique as each electric co-op is in North Carolina, we all operate under the same set of cooperative principles, including one of my favorites: “Concern for Community.”
Electric co-ops are built from their core to serve the needs of their members. Providing safe, reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric service is a big part of that, of course, but a wide range of programs and initiatives are in place to simply better the communities that we all call home.
I was reminded of many of these while attending the 2016 statewide Annual Meeting in Raleigh last month. The meeting provided the leaders of electric co-ops across the state an opportunity to compare notes and discuss issues important to us and our members back home. There were business meetings — an important part of the democratic process that flows from the national level on down to your local boards of directors — and updates from our statewide association and national partners.
But what made everyone in that room most proud were the updates and announcements on how electric co-ops are empowering the communities we serve. For one, we heard from past Youth Tour participants, three of whom were awarded scholarships to help them as they enter universities next fall. In hearing them speak, it was clear how important the co-op sponsored Youth Tour program was to their own personal development, providing an opportunity last summer to visit Washington, D.C., with more than 40 of their peers from across North Carolina. They toured museums and historic sites, but they also met with their representatives in Congress and witnessed democracy in action.
We also learned how schools across the state are using the Bright Ideas education grant program in exciting ways. From campus gardens to music programs and international outreach, these projects are making a real difference in K–12 classrooms. Since the Bright Ideas program began in 1994, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have awarded $10.2 million to sponsor 9,800 projects benefiting 2 million students. You likely know one of these students, or perhaps you were one yourself.
Another important source of funds for our communities is the federal Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program, which electric co-ops can use as a source of funds for critical community projects. North Carolina is a national leader in applying for and being awarded these loans and grants, bringing $52 million into our communities, to date. These funds improve our quality of life by supporting things like libraries, schools, fire stations and hospitals, while also drawing important industry to the state, creating hundreds of jobs each year.
I am proud of the work our state’s electric cooperatives do to support our communities. As a member of your local co-op, you can share in that pride. In making concern for community a fundamental way of doing business, we can ensure that our communities continue to thrive for years to come.