West Central Electric bands together to build a better community
For rural electric cooperatives, there’s an unwritten principle tied in with Concern For Community: keeping residents, particularly kids, educated about and safe around electricity. In West Central Electric Cooperative’s service territory, students at 17 school districts from preschool through high school can count on seeing an electrical safety demonstration once a year. Community organizations from local 4-H chapters to senior citizen groups, and even businesses and first responders, can request a program tailored to their workplace environment.
“A lot of times electricity is something that’s taken for granted because people don’t think about it,” says Heather Hoflander, communications specialist for the co-op. “We’re just so used to plugging something in or turning on a switch that we don’t even think about the safety part of it.”
Electricity education doesn’t stop with the student body, however, which is why West Central annually sponsors at least one area teacher to Energy in Today’s Classroom. The two-day summer program conducted by Central Electric Power Cooperative and the University of Missouri keeps teachers informed of all things related to electrical energy so they can return to their home districts prepared to teach the topic in their classrooms.
“It goes back to supporting the cooperatives’ principles of education, information and training, concern for community and cooperation among cooperatives,” says Manager of Member Services Brent Schlotzhauer. “It’s a good way to communicate the three-tier system (generation, transmission and distribution) to teachers, who are going to communicate it to students, who may be members of ours or working for us someday.”
West Central’s current membership supports the community at large in another way, and it costs each of them less than a dollar a month. The cooperative’s Operation Round Up program allows participating members to round up their monthly electric bill to the nearest dollar amount, with the change being pooled to fund nonprofits in West Central’s service territory. Applications for funding are reviewed and funds awarded quarterly by the Round Up Foundation’s volunteer board comprising West Central Electric members.
Since its inception in September 2018, West Central’s members have funded 45 local projects for a total of $174,100 aiding senior centers, church groups, food pantries and other outreach programs. Recent recipients in 2022 include groups as wide-ranging as the Alma Police Department, the Kingsville R-1 School District, Lafayette County 4-H and Boy Scout Troop 727 of Holden.
The Corder Fire Protection District was one of three in West Central’s service territory that received funds from the foundation in 2020. In Corder, $5,000 was put toward construction of a new vehicle bay at the Dover fire station. For the volunteer department, which is tasked with protecting a 67-square-mile area on a tax-based budget, the Round Up funds were a big boost to their efficiency.
“It was a two-bay station with three trucks, and we made it into a three-bay station to make it a little easier to get in and out of,” says Fire Chief David Rasa. “The one you needed was always in the middle, so it’s a lot easier to get that third vehicle out.”
In the growing city of Odessa, $2,500 in 2020 funds helped Partners for Odessa Parks and Recreation add shade and foul ball protection to bleachers at the Dyer Park baseball field in 2020. Another $2,500 helped add two new basketball courts in Chestnut Memorial Park on the city’s burgeoning east side in 2019.
“That was a new offering for a large section of Odessa,” says Cinda Dowell, secretary and past president for the nonprofit group. “It’s a growing side of town with a lot of kids who wouldn’t have access to the other parks because they are so far away.”
One funded project makes a hot day at the fair a little easier on the beleaguered young farmer. Just ask the FFA and 4-H students who bring their animals to the Johnson County Livestock Committee’s show barn, and who — thanks to a fenced walkway between the pens and the ring — no longer must chase a distracted lamb too far to put them back on course. Other examples of Round Up’s reach within West Central country don’t always take the form of new construction but make an equal impact on the lives of kids who participate in the Concordia High School and Santa Fe FFA’s Backsnack programs.
In the spirit of keeping kids healthy, Kaisee Lovercamp, physical education teacher at Lafayette County C-1 High School, found a unique application for Operation Round Up funds in April 2021. Smart heart rate monitors personalized to each student help track steps and heart rate during class activities. The data helps ensure the department is doing what is best and safe for the students, while also helping kids learn about how different activities affect their max heart rate. An iPad app gamifies the data as students hit different heart rate levels, which Kaisee says has increased participation and engagement in the classroom.
“COVID put up so many barriers for kids and we’re trying to increase physical activity,” Kaisee adds. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to see how they’re doing pre-COVID and post-COVID. Without that true data, it’s hard for them to make that connection.”
As the Round Up program prepares to enter its fifth year, support for the program continues to grow, according to West Central Administrative Assistant and Benefits Administrator Kim Lewis, who serves as the administrative assistant to the foundation’s board.
“The board was hoping for at least 50% participation, and we’ve remained steady at about 66%,” Kim says. “That’s just what being part of the co-op family is all about: giving back to your community.”
For more information on West Central Electric’s Round Up Foundation, visit www.westcentralelectric.coop.