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by Share Brandt

Empowering Communities

It was former U. S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill who coined the phrase, “All politics is local,” indicating that the personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care about the most. It is what is happening in our community day-to-day that we feel most empowered to change.

Let’s put the politics aside and focus on community. “Concern for Community,” the Seventh Cooperative Principle, is what brought neighbors together to achieve a common goal—bringing central-station electric service to their homes, farms, and businesses—and with it the promise of a better life. In the 1930s local folks cooperated to form their own small electric utility. The promise of the Rural Electrification Act empowered communities to make change happen.

Principled Mission

The mission of electric co-ops then, as now, is to empower members to improve the quality of life in their communities. Electricity was just the start. Electric cooperatives continue to use the Seven Cooperative Principles to guide the operation of the electric business. It is the promise of these principles and the power of human connections that can assure you, the member, that your elected board of directors and selected employees will consider members first!

Come to your co-op’s annual meeting this spring and you will see “concern for community” firsthand. Each year electric co-ops provide scholarships to high school graduates preparing to enter university or technical college. In recent years, many co-ops have added scholarships for non-traditional students, such as adults returning to college to learn new career skills. Since the establishment of the Federated Youth Foundation in 1970, electric co-ops have contributed more than $3.3 million in scholarship awards.

In another example, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Rosholt, Wisconsin, teamed with local civic organizations, federal and state agencies, and Waupaca County to build much-needed affordable senior housing and an assisted living facility in Iola. CWEC also put its revolving loan fund to work to help a local meat market expand and stay local and to help build a business park to attract new business to the community. The business park has become the home of many start-up companies.

Meeting Needs Statewide

I have only described a portion of what one of 24 local distribution co-ops does to put into action their co-op principle—concern for community. Statewide, electric co-ops have provided $10.3 million in Rural Economic Development Loans and Grants and generated 1,600 jobs on behalf of communities and businesses since 1989. Charitable contributions in 2011 totaled nearly $625,000 to purchase equipment for local EMT services, disability access for public facilities, and to assist individuals with a variety of special needs.

Learn how you can be involved in your electric co-op to contribute your ideas along with the other members—your neighbors. Besides attending the annual meeting, many co-ops have member advisory teams, youth ambassador groups, and member committees. You, too, can make a difference by working cooperatively with other members and your local electric cooperative.