ORLANDO, Fla.—Electric cooperatives’ concern for community is not limited to just their neighborhoods—or the workweek. On Saturday, before the official start of the NRECA Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, 100 volunteers from co-ops around the country joined forces in support of East Orlando’s Covenant House.
For its 11th annual community service project, Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives partnered with Rebuilding Together Orlando to make repairs at a nonprofit shelter and service center for runaway, homeless and at-risk youth aged 18-24, including teen parents and their children.
Co-op volunteers spent the day painting interior and exterior walls, cleaning out closets, landscaping, and sanding and staining tables at the Covenant House facility, one of two in Florida.
“The Touchstone Energy network is committed to building thriving communities that foster a high quality of life for its members,” said Touchstone Energy Executive Director Lynn Moore. “As we look to the future, it’s essential that we support the next generation of members. We are proud to offer our time to make essential repairs that will help teens and young adults reset their lives and become active members and leaders within their own communities.”
Volunteers sanded and stained benches and tables for Covenant House residents, a task perfect for Marion Denger, president of Iowa’s Prairie Energy Cooperative and an NRECA board member. Denger is in the homebuilding business and makes furniture. He said the volunteers’ impact would be magnified by the fact that Covenant House is a community center in addition to a shelter. “It helps everyone,” he said.
A significant portion of the project included painting the exterior of the entire Covenant House building. Mary Jo Soukup, whose husband is a lineworker at Brown County REA in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, explained that giving the building a refresh was important because the residents deserved a “beautiful place to live.” Soukup added, “It’s just the human thing to do. Everybody should do a little bit of love once in a while.”
Claire Vigesaa, general manager at Upper Missouri Power Cooperative in Sydney, Montana, and his wife, Jill, spent the morning repainting the front of the building. “We take for granted so much; all our gifts that we have and our home life, parents we had to help us,” Claire said. “So this is nice to be here.” A young woman on her way to catch a bus noticed the work they were doing and thanked the couple as she left. “I was really touched by that,” Jill said.
Volunteers also put their landscaping skills to the test, trimming trees and raking leaves around Covenant House. Touchstone Energy connected with Covenant House through Rebuilding Together Orlando, an organization that focuses on repairing homes and revitalizing communities. Rebuilding Together Orlando Executive Director Ed Green said the project was a perfect fit for co-ops, who seek to improve quality of life in their communities. “There’s a synergy that’s gained when you get organizations with like missions involved and working, as our name so dramatically states, working together,” Green said.
Another major task for volunteers: reorganizing the closets at Covenant House, which houses about 24 residents. Whitney Celestin, a program manager with Rebuilding Together Orlando, said the project would help combat the negative connotation often associated with homeless shelters. “We want [the residents] to have something where they can feel comfortable and a space they can truly call home while they’re transitioning into their permanent homes,” said Celestin.
“It looks like we’re painting, but really what we’re doing is coming together in fellowship and showing our commitment to community,” said Geoff Oldfather, communications and public relations manager at Arizona G&T Cooperatives and a former Touchstone Energy board president. Oldfather, who has participated in the project for nine years, said that with each year, it becomes more and more apparent that cooperatives’ commitment to community is needed “wherever we go.”
Another landscaping task: laying bright red mulch around the exterior of the building, giving the area pop of color and a clean look. Green, of Rebuilding Together Orlando, said that when Touchstone Energy reached out, he knew right away that Covenant House would be the perfect site for the group. “There’s a need, and here’s a group that brings out 100 strong volunteers to help address the need,” Green said. “So it was a zeitgeist moment; everyone came together at the right time.”
“Anybody can come in and paint, but it takes a village to make a difference in a youth’s life,” said Anne Lee, director of development for Covenant House’s Orlando facility. Lee said the volunteers’ work would go a long way to make Covenant House “feel like a home” for residents, “with some love and hope, so these youth know that people care about them.”
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