Who Powers You?: Touchstone Energy contest honors hometown heroes
In the co-op world, powering our communities means a lot more than producing and transmitting electricity – it’s about people using their energy to make their neighborhoods a better place to live.
This cooperative value of commitment to community is the foundation of Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives’ annual #WhoPowersYou competition, an online contest that recognizes electric distribution cooperative members making positive impacts in their communities.
“The contest is a great way to recognize the people who give their time and talents to improve the lives of others in their community,” says Chad Reisenauer, Basin Electric’s director of community and member relations.
In addition to the recognition, winners are given cash prizes – the grand prize is $5,000, second place receives $2,000, third place is $1,500, and honorable mention is $500.
While those who took top honors last year did not come from our service area, several who are in our neck of the woods were nominated. Following are a few of the nominations submitted by our members.
Terry Stieg, Southeast Electric Cooperative, Inc.
In Ekalaka, Montana, a town of 400 people, there is one man who makes sure everyone is taken care of. He isn’t the mayor, a law enforcement officer, or a doctor.
Terry Stieg is a Vietnam War veteran who has lived in Ekalaka all his life. In the past 15 years, he has taken it upon himself to be the town’s guardian angel. His self-appointed duties include delivering Meals on Wheels to shut-ins and getting mail for residents of the local nursing home and other people in the community. Stieg has also been known to pick up elderly residents and take them to coffee at the local café. On holidays, he can be seen standing on his small ladder putting flags up on Main Street.
On snowy days, he often shovels the sidewalk in front of the café to make sure everyone can get to coffee in the morning without slipping on the ice or having to climb snowbanks.
He also gets coffee cans full of sand and makes sure every intersection on Main Street and the hospital is sanded so people don’t slip.
Steig is also very good about remembering the birthdays of residents of the town, and stops by their workplaces to wish them a good day. And, he is a good gardener, raising a tomato patch that keeps the entire town supplied with tomatoes all summer long.
Stieg is a man who does all these things out of the goodness of his heart without asking for anything in return, saying he does them because he doesn’t like to be bored. If only there were more Terry Stiegs in our communities, can you imagine what we could do?
Mark Meier, Capital Electric Cooperative, Inc.
In 2009, Mark Meier quit his job to open Heaven’s Helpers Soup Café for the less fortunate members of the Bismarck-Mandan, North Dakota, community.
The soup café serves warm meals to the homeless, working poor, elderly, individuals with disabilities, single parents, and children. It's a place where people can come in from the cold and warm up with a cup of soup, a sandwich, coffee, and desserts. But even more than that, everyone who comes through the door is treated with dignity. Volunteers act as chefs, prep cooks and wait staff, serving hot meals to those in need.
In addition, clients who volunteer their time can earn "soup café bucks," which can be put toward a hot shower or the use of laundry facilities, which are both located in the same building.
Meier's work isn't easy – he coordinates the many volunteers needed to run the café, leads Bible studies and prayer, plans and prepares meals using donated food items, and coordinated the renovation of the café's new location, which opened in 2017.
Jan Pollema, Poudre Valley REA, Inc.
Jan Pollema is the executive director of Hearts & Horses, a non-profit, therapeutic riding program in Loveland, Colorado, that helps children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities grow both mentally and physically.
Pollema started with Hearts & Horses as a volunteer 21 years ago when it began as a small program, and helped it grow into what it is today. The organization is now comprised of nine full-time staff members, a part-time staff member, and up to 40-50 volunteers per day. Last year, more than 1,600 people volunteered at the organization.
Specific programs have been created for riders with particular needs, including a therapeutic riding program designed to help with the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of people with disabilities; the Changing Leads Program, which helps at-risk youth find friendship, develop trust, and form a deep connection through partnering with a horse; Hearts and Horses for Heroes, a program for veterans that helps them heal and grow by restoring the wisdom of their mind, body, and spirit; and an Alzheimer's program and therapy services provided by licensed physical and occupational therapists.
There are currently 27 horses on the property and about 180 different riders that participate each week. Pollema and all of the other staff and volunteers who work diligently and tirelessly to help as many riders as they can, are making a huge impact in their community.
Harrison Swift, Poudre Valley REA, Inc.
Harrison Swift served in the Marines in Afghanistan from 2011-2012. When he returned to the United States, he faced difficulties adjusting back to civilian life – he couldn't find a good job, was at an emotional low, and was struggling trying to make himself feel like a functioning part of society again. When he reached out for help, he felt like he got the "run around” and was directed to assistance programs from Denver, Colorado, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
On top of these struggles, a friend he served with in the Marines passed away shortly after returning from his deployment. This tragedy became a pattern, and Swift lost more military brothers due to suicide and reckless behavior.
After attending his friend's funeral in 2014, he felt the urge to do something to break this tragic pattern. He wanted to eliminate the hoops veterans had to jump through, so he worked with a small business development center to help him put his idea to work.
His vision was to have one place for veterans to go to access a variety of assistance programs. He successfully submitted the information necessary to become a non-profit organization, and in 2017, the Northern Colorado Veteran Resource Center became a reality.
Its board of directors is comprised of individuals with business and military experience, and Swift has partnered with other non-profit organizations that assist veterans, to all work out of one building. Volunteers of America, Healing Warriors, Assisted Living Locators, Rock Jennison with EXP Realty, a veteran affairs transition coordinator, and a Reiki therapist are all located in that one building. In addition, employment and financial advisers host classes to help veterans with resume building and financial programs.
Instead of using his own struggles as excuses, Swift used them to help solve problems similar to the ones he faced.
2019 Who Power You? contest
The 2019 Who Powers You contest is upon us, so start thinking of those inspirational co-op members in your community.
Nominations will be accepted Aug. 5 through Sept. 6. Visit whopowersyou.com to submit your nomination.