‘Awesome Day’: Co-op Pulls Out All the Stops for Young Cancer Survivor

Six-year-old Lakai Rivera surveys the Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative pole yard from a bucket truck with journeyman line technician Josh Hendricks. (Photo By: Michael Hoeft/Minnkota Power Cooperative)

The staff of a small Minnesota electric cooperative helped build powerful, happy memories for a 6-year-old cancer survivor by opening their hearts and sharing their time to make the boy feel special.

Lakai Rivera grew accustomed to spending much of his time in the relative isolation of his family’s home during months of treatment for leukemia. So when a line crew showed up to change out a utility pole, he spent an August day in the yard watching them work. That led to a fascination with bucket trucks and digger derricks and an interest in his electric co-op.

When Nana Lee saw her grandson’s enthusiasm, she took note. And when his interests triggered a string of questions over several days, she called the office of Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative for answers.

“He was basically obsessed with utility poles and wires and lines, so she wanted to bring him by to see our pole yard and trucks,” said Deanna Lefebvre, general manager of the Bagley-based distribution co-op.

Lakai Rivera tests his new skills in the pole yard of Minnesota’s Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative. (Photo By: Michael Hoeft/Minnkota Power Cooperative)

“Ms. Lee told me that Lakai had been battling leukemia and while it was in remission, she was happy to see him taking such an interest in something other than doctors and hospitals,” said Lefebvre. “When she asked if he could bring him by for a few minutes, I told her, ‘We could do better than that.’ That’s when we decided to make it a very special day for him.”

Lefebvre, who has been general manager of the 4,400-member co-op since March, discussed the visit with her staff of 15 full-timers, lining up all the activities that typically are included in school presentations or field trips and tailoring them for a 6-year-old. Sept. 24 was designated Lakai Rivera Day at co-op headquarters.

“Everybody was more than happy to pitch in,” said Lefebvre, who greeted the little boy in the co-op’s lobby with his own gear. “I’d bought him a little hard hat and put his name on it. We also found him some little gloves and safety glasses and made sure he was properly outfitted for safety.”

The shy boy arrived at the co-op’s office with pages of handprinted questions, and as co-op staffers responded, he loosened up and was smiling and animated throughout his tour of the office, warehouse and pole yard.

Angie Swenson (left) and Deanna Lefebvre of Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative present a toy digger truck to young cancer survivor Lakai Rivera at co-op headquarters. (Photo By: Michael Hoeft/Minnkota Power Cooperative)

“We showed him the map of our service territory and I pointed out where his house was,” said Lefebvre. “Then we headed out to the co-op’s safety and training area, where pole-top rescues and other line crew skills are practiced and refined.

“The guys were out there, and they talked a lot about connecting wires and they showed him how that’s done. We let him install an insulator on a cross arm; they took him up in a bucket truck,” said Lefebvre. By the end of the day, it was obvious that the co-op had made a lasting impression for their young visitor.

“This was a great experience for everyone involved. Lakai had us all laughing with his questions and his interest in what we do here at the co-op. He had an awesome day, and so did we.”

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.