by | Sep 21, 2020

Se-Ma-No Electric Cooperative members know their co-op. In the wake of severe thunderstorms, high winds and heavy blizzards, they can’t help but notice bucket trucks and linemen working diligently to restore downed lines and power. But the co-op also is busy behind the scenes helping the members of its community to eat, work and receive medical care.

Every year, Se-Ma-No purchases at least one pig through youth livestock shows at local fairs, pays for processing and donates the pork to area organizations. “It helps the kids with their ag projects, and then it helps the organizations,” says Kevin Findley, Se-Ma-No’s manager of member services, safety and regulatory compliance. “It’s a good deal all the way around.”

This year, recognizing the increased need due to COVID-19, the co-op along with the Se-Ma-No Electric Foundation purchased five hogs. Meat from three was donated to the Mountain Grove and Seymour Senior Centers along with the Wright County Childrens Home, with the remaining two put into a drawing at the co-op’s annual meeting in September. It’s one act that powers the community in a different way than what most utility providers are accustomed to doing.

“Se-Ma-No is a vital part of helping the Wright County Childrens Home serve children in crisis,” says Executive Director Rebecca Baker. Since 2010, the nonprofit has received more than $5,900 from the foundation, which was established the same year. Awards have helped purchase major appliances, install dusk-to-dawn lighting and up-date fixtures from fluorescent to LEDs.

Through Operation Round Up, Se-Ma-No Electric members can choose to round their monthly bill up to the nearest dollar. The extra change goes to the foundation, whose volunteer board comprises nine co-op members who meet quarterly to review applications for assistance. The total amount raised goes to help members in emergency situations, scholarships for high school seniors’ college tuitions and to fund food pantries, crisis centers and other local groups. Almost 70 percent of the co-op’s membership participates, with each member averaging about $6 in contributions per year. Over the past decade the foundation has awarded a total of 241 applications with $291,015.

“They’ve been able to help a lot of worthy organizations,” says Brandi Jarrett, executive director of the Pregnancy Resource Center of Mountain Grove. “They’ve been very generous with considering the needs of all the organizations in the community and deciding how they can best serve — especially lower income populations who might be underserved in some areas.”

Foundation awards assist the Pregnancy Resource Center’s mission to help mothers who lack insurance or have not yet applied for Medicaid stay healthy. The center performs ultrasounds, provides parenting education and assists parents with obtaining necessary items such as diapers and baby clothes. But some needs run beyond the budget of a small nonprofit. Grants have helped purchase materials and curriculum for pregnancy and parenting classes — an ongoing need to stay current with the latest medical education — and maintain their ultrasound machine.

“We try to make our equipment last as long as we can, so the maintenance part is huge to getting the maximum life out of our equipment and making us good stewards of the funds we’ve been given for it,” Brandi says.

Another group that knows the challenge of a tight budget is Unique Services, a sheltered workshop employing 33 developmentally disabled residents of Wright County.

Unique Services’ employees do assembly work for local companies, refinish and repair furniture for the public, make and sell fire starters and run a lawn service in the Mountain Grove area. Manager LaDonna Kennedy says the organization tries to be as self-sufficient as possible, raising funds through pancake breakfasts, chili suppers and auctions, but Se-Ma-No’s grants provide a big boost.

“We’re a nonprofit, and we struggle just like everyone else to make ends meet at the end of the month,” says LaDonna. She says that over the years, grants from the cooperative have helped Unique Services replace a riding mower for its lawn service crew. More recently, Unique Services showed their appreciation for employees by taking them on a trip to Branson where they competed in track events, took in a music show and went to dinner. “It’s a milestone for us,” LaDonna adds of the grant. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to afford anything like that at all.”

Wright County 4-H’s shotgun sports team also benefits from experiences shooters wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, if not for the foundation. Teaching youth safe, accurate shooting and sportsmanship — even for a small team of a half-dozen shooters — comes with a big price tag considering the costs of ammunition and tournament fees.

“It can be an expensive sport,” says Denise Odom, board member of Top of the Ozarks Shooting Range and shooting sports coordinator for Wright County 4-H. “They shoot anywhere between 300 and 400 rounds a week just practicing. The registration fees run from $30 to $120, depending on if they’re shooting skeet, trap or sporting clays.”

In the Seymour R-2 School District, the foundation is a key contributor to the Care to Learn program, which assists kids in need with health, hunger and hygiene items. School Liaison Erika Lansdown says the organization’s backpack program sends more than 100 kids home with enough food to last them the weekend. For the past three years, Care to Learn’s efforts used awards to help fill food bags, schedule eye exams and purchase new shoes for students whose family can’t afford to buy them.

“That’s where we get most of our support, and it’s been even more important this year with our fundraising events being cancelled due to COVID-19,” Erika says. “And the need isn’t disappearing, unfortunately.”

Whether the foundation’s awards go toward helping school kids afford a badly needed pair of glasses, a young mother to see her baby for the first time or a senior find their next meal, each effort is as important to Se-Ma-No as keeping the lights on and the power flowing. Through the efforts of the co-op and its membership, Kevin says, the cooperative principle of Concern for Community is fulfilled.

“To me, that sums it up,” Kevin says. “That’s the motto of a co-op: We’re supposed to be active and engaged within the community. That’s part of our history.”


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