Rising to the Challenges of an Unprecedented Year - Carolina Country

Rising to the Challenges of an Unprecedented Year

Electric co-ops are working with members, employees and local groups to help those in need

By J. Michael Davis

Mike Davis

Mike Davis, General Manager, Tri-County EMC

I hear the word “unprecedented” often used in describing the many months spent during the ongoing pandemic. It’s true — the times we’re in are far from normal — but what remains unchanged is the ability of our communities to rise up and offer support to those facing challenges.

I’m proud to say the same goes for electric cooperatives across the state. Co-ops are geared to serve their members and their local communities, and that service goes well beyond keeping the lights on. Co-ops are committed to bettering their communities. As I’m sure many of you are aware, “Concern for Community” is one of the seven Cooperative Principles we operate under. That principle has governed our response to the pandemic from the beginning.

So while I’d prefer many things about 2020 remain in the past, we can all be proud of the ways electric co-ops have adapted to better serve members during the pandemic. Here are a few examples:

Giving back to communities

Electric co-ops are working together with members, employees and local groups to help those in need. North Carolina’s electric co-ops often support local agencies and nonprofits with donations and grant programs throughout the year, and 2020 was certainly no exception. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to community resources such as food banks, social services, healthcare and first responders, and utility assistance agencies. Co-ops have hosted blood drives, and supported those making and distributing personal protective equipment like facemasks.

Supporting education

The pandemic has disrupted students and their typical schedules, keeping many from learning in the classroom. That makes it all the more critical for co-ops to continue supporting our state’s youth and investing in their future. The Bright Ideas education grant program is awarding hundreds of grants to K–12 teachers in November and December, with more than $13 million awarded since the program began.

Several electric co-ops have also established free Wi-Fi hotspots around their communities, allowing members a safe way to access the internet for schoolwork, job searches, telemedicine appointments and other online business.

“Electric co-ops are working together with members, employees and local groups to help those in need.”

And this year, two co-ops — my own Tri-County EMC as well as Haywood EMC — mentored local teacher leaders through a continuing partnership with the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership at NC State University. The year-long Kenan fellowships equip teachers to help students see real-world relevance in their lessons and be prepared for the future through Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. Their work included a three-week internship at our respective offices, and they’ll be able to apply the lessons learned from that hands-on experience in their classrooms for years to come. Including these two recent teachers, North Carolina electric cooperatives have sponsored and hosted nine Kenan Fellows since 2014.

Promoting safety

Safety is always of the utmost importance to electric co-ops, and the pandemic has created new protocols to help ensure our employees and members remain healthy. Several cooperative offices remain closed to walk-in traffic, offering service instead via phone, through drive-up facilities or online portals — allowing members to conduct business without leaving the house.

Co-op field personnel have implemented new scheduling and physical distancing practices as they maintain critical infrastructure. Equally as important, we’ve also coordinated with suppliers and partners to safeguard access to necessary components, materials and support resources.

Our No. 1 priority is providing members with safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity. But beyond that, we’re dedicated to helping the communities we serve — those communities that we call home — thrive. This past year has been a challenge for all of us, but we’re in it together. I have no doubt that whatever challenge we may face going forward, our co-ops and the communities they serve will rise to meet it.

About the Author

Mike Davis is general manager for Tri-County EMC in Dudley.

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