CEO Sean Vanslyke began closing SEMO Electric Cooperative’s offices a year ago, when pandemic concerns were rising. He had no idea when members would be allowed in SEMO’s lobbies again, and every co-op staffer who could work remotely began settling into routines quickly developed to help reduce their risks of contracting COVID-19.
“People were just lost that first week or two, and I could see some people were struggling and emotionally stressed,” Vanslyke recalled. “I felt like I needed to do something to help keep people optimistic, maintain a sense of community and empower them.”
That prompted him to launch “The Friday Feature,” a series of self-produced short videos in which he finds positive and upbeat messages to share with friends, family, business associates and anyone else who tunes in. He shares the messages through social media channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like that, but I never had something that pushed me forward like the pandemic, so I saw an opportunity to help people who needed some encouragement,” said Vanslyke. “The first week was hard, and there have been some fairly hard weeks in the past year, but it’s been personally rewarding to reach out and help people.”
Despite serious illnesses and deaths among family and friends and the ongoing challenges of running the Sikeston-based co-op and its GoSEMO Fiber broadband arm, Vanslyke has found at least one minute a week to focus on the positive.
“I shot the first five as selfies, and then my wife volunteered to help,” said Vanslyke. “She’s actually shot 36 of them for me. Only one video wasn’t shot on a Friday morning. We want the videos to be meaningful and authentic.”
The messages encourage viewers to find something to feel good about. While some are drawn from his experiences running the co-op for nine years, others are inspired by conversations and observations he has in his community.
“I carry index cards with me all the time, and I’m always scribbling ideas down and thinking about things,” said Vanslyke. “I have tried to keep them simple and direct and short. When I watch media now, I want people to get to the point and tell me what they have to share, so I’ve let that be my guide as well.”
As year two of the series gets under way, he’s considering expanding it to include brief interactive video exchanges with new audiences.
“‘Friends’ is a strange word in today’s climate because of COVID-19, but we’ve met a lot of associates and people. I like to read their stuff, and they like to read mine, and we trade ideas,” said Vanslyke, who hopes to write an inspirational book based upon the first year of his project. “Camaraderie and communications make getting through challenging times easier.”
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA