Southwest Electric, CoBank team up to fund community initiatives
As pillars of the communities they serve, co-ops know the value of partnerships. Working together to build a better outcome is how Missouri’s rural electric cooperatives were born, and improving the quality of life for members has always been in their DNA. Call it following the cooperative principles or simply doing the right thing, to the co-ops, it all comes down to helping the people at the end of the lines.
Since 2016, Southwest Electric Cooperative and CoBank have teamed up to fund the organizations that make a difference in southwest Missouri. Donations are made through the Denver-based cooperative bank’s Sharing Success program, which matches donations up to $10,000.
Over the past seven years, Southwest and CoBank have donated $116,000 to various causes in the co-op’s service area, including the Dallas and Polk county fairgrounds, food banks, community action agencies and six University of Missouri Extension offices. In 2022, the Benton, Hickory and Camden county MU Extension offices each received a donation of $6,600.
“We’re thrilled to provide some much-needed financial help to these important community partners,” says Southwest Electric CEO/General Manager James Ashworth. “Our concern for the communities we live in is not just a feel-good saying. The board of directors and employees of Southwest live it by taking action and giving back. The Sharing Success program is a great example of that.”
Based in every county of Missouri, MU Extension provides programming, information and education in four main areas: youth and families, agriculture and the environment, nutrition and health, and community development. Benton County Community Engagement Specialist Amie Breshears says the funding helps provide services ranging from soil sample testing and plant identification to teaching kids about exercise and proper nutrition or helping seniors live at home longer.
“I love their willingness to do that for us, and that they trusted our council and staff to know what our community’s needs are,” says Amie. “It’s a tremendous investment in Benton County, our citizens and our kids.”
Community Engagement Specialist Allison Gunter says part of the funding will bring together Hickory County students and seniors for a barn quilt painting project.
“For seniors, it’s good for their dexterity, memory, cognitive ability and socialization, and the teachers are trying to get their students out there to see what kinds of things they can do to help their community,” Allison says. “I’d also love to create a community resource guide. There’s nothing that lists all of the resources available to everyone, and with so many people moving from cities to these smaller communities it’s a good resource for them, too.”
One Extension program — 4-H — is particularly close to Southwest, because area clubs volunteer at the co-op’s annual meeting. Some of Southwest and CoBank’s donation provides scholarships for kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate in program events.
“I’m so appreciative that the board has made this a budget item,” Ted Zeugin, manager of member services for the co-op, says of the Sharing Success program. “It’s always a good thing when you can reinvest in your community, and we try to do that as much as we can.”
Established in 2012, Sharing Success allows participants to double contributions to local charities through matching funds. In that time, CoBank and its member-owners have donated $66 million to groups ranging from volunteer fire departments to hunger relief programs.
Another group of important partners in the community are three community action agencies, which co-ops contract with to perform energy audits for members. Through a partnership between Southwest Electric and power provider Associated Electric Cooperative, Southwest members can receive an energy audit at a discounted price of $100. Community action agencies also administer Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) grants and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), programs which assist families with energy costs and provide energy efficiency improvements, respectively.
“It goes back to the co-op business model,” says Nick Seiner, Southwest’s manager of communications and business development. “We were built by these communities, and they still own us. We’re not some corporate board that doesn’t live in the areas we serve. That’s not how we’re structured.”
For more information about Sharing Success, visit www.cobank.com. To contact your local MU Extension office, visit www.extension.missouri.edu. For more information about Southwest Electric Cooperative, visit www.swec.org.