Jennifer Thornburgh, a member of Bellefontaine-based Logan County Electric Cooperative, hadn’t really thought much about the few pennies she added each month to her electric bill.
Like many other co-ops, LCEC offers its members the choice to round their bills to the next full dollar — and then uses that small change to help fund worthy causes within the community.
Co-ops around the state and nation have a variety of names for similar programs — Operation Round Up, Community Connection, People Fund, etc. — but to those individuals and organizations that benefit from them, they could simply be called “Hope.”
As it turns out, Thornburgh’s donation — an average of $6 per year, a few nickels and dimes at a time — helped LCEC boost a program that helped her own family. One of LCEC’s Operation Round Up grants helped RTC Industries in Bellefontaine to provide a transition program for young adults with developmental disabilities.
“My son Eli went through the Healthy Relationships program, through RTC, and it was a huge benefit for us as a family,” she says. “It was really nice because it just helped as a parent to know that they know the things that I sometimes don’t know how to talk to him about.”
Kylee Purtee, day supervisor at RTC Industries, was at a conference where she heard about the Healthy Relationships curriculum and thought it would fit perfectly into the services RTC provides. “We were trying to figure out how we could find the money to pay for it — we have some funding, but it was a good chunk of money,” she says. “We knew the Logan County co-op is very community-focused, they’re always doing things to help others.” So she applied for and was awarded a grant, and within weeks RTC had added the service for families like the Thornburghs.
“It really means a lot to know that when you see that Operation Round Up on your bill, that it’s impacting people in the community,” Jennifer says. “A lot of people say, ‘oh, your dollars help the community.’ But actually seeing it and experiencing it firsthand means a lot.”
Programs like Operation Round Up are a prime example of how co-ops are different from other utilities: “Concern for Community” is written into every co-op’s basic principles, and they take that mission seriously. Ohio’s co-ops distributed more than $1.8 million in grants, donations, and other funding last year alone — and all of that money stayed in each of those local communities.
There are examples all over of both large and small donations that make a huge impact.
After the double-derecho windstorm devastated wide areas of eastern Ohio in June, Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative in Millersburg gathered Operation Round Up funds to make a $25,000 donation to the disaster relief managed by the local United Way — putting all those small donations to work for a major effort so desperately needed.
The Community Connection Board of Butler Rural Electric Cooperative in Oxford made 40 smaller donations at its semiannual meeting in September, granting such needed help as reading materials at several local elementary schools, electrical work at a community food pantry, and mobility projects for children with disabilities.
Members of New London-based Firelands Electric Cooperative donated more than $62,000 through its Operation Round Up program last year alone, including funds for a hospice program to help in keeping patients safe and comfortable, and signage to help travelers navigate the New London-Greenwich Rail Trail.
South Central Power Company, based in Lancaster and covering a wide swath of southern and eastern Ohio, awarded more than $600,000 in grants and scholarships through its Operation Round Up program — including $3,000 to a program to purchase school supplies for teenagers in foster care.
The Community Connection Fund at St. Marys-based Midwest Electric has provided more than $1.2 million since its inception in 1998, including funds this year to repair the parking lot at the VFW post in Coldwater and to help the Auglaize County Historical Society implement QR code technology to better highlight its museums and sites.
Coshocton-based Frontier Power Company’s Community Connection Fund awards grants nearly every month. Recipients this year have included the Bakersville Union Cemetery Association, the Coshocton County Beagle Club, and 4-H Camp Ohio.
“The simplest act of kindness, which is only a few dollars each year, has been so powerful in our community. It is inspiring to watch our members give as individuals, knowing that when added together, their donations offer hope and help to the community,” says Logan County Electric Cooperative’s Ashley Oakley, who administers her co-op’s donation program. “It’s a true, real-life example of the spirit that sets co-ops apart.”