Cooperative volunteerism – when a ripple becomes a wave

Menard Electric Cooperative General Manager Alisha Anker poses with a Little Free Library located at the cooperative’s office in rural Petersburg

Every selfless act of kindness causes a ripple effect that multiplies well beyond its initial impact.

Employees, directors and family members from 12 Illinois electric cooperatives and the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) demonstrated this by participating in a statewide Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Community Service project last October during Cooperative Month.

Through group or individual projects, 209 co-op volunteers benefited hospitals, schools, charities and many other organizations by logging 1,358 service hours, giving $31,000 in cash and donating hundreds of pounds of
canned goods, books, pet supplies and materials for projects.

Menard Electric Cooperative volunteers invested 221 hours to build three Little Free Libraries in communities in their service territory that were without local public libraries. In addition, the co-op’s general manager, Alisha Anker, funded the materials to construct an additional one outside the headquarters in Petersburg to compliment the building.

Each uniquely constructed wooden structure has a roof, walls and shelves and is affixed atop a post. An acrylic window on the door reveals the books inside. There is no charge to borrow the books, and readers can donate books.

Three teams of Menard volunteers constructed the libraries for the towns of Oakford, New Holland and Middletown, and employees donated building materials and books. Anker explains, “What initially was a few employees willing to help design and build turned into entire departments collaborating and working together to get the job done.”

When contemplating the Co-op Month Community Service Project, Anker says her goal was two-fold – to bring together the co-op’s employees and their unique skillsets, while benefiting the communities they not only serve, but live, play and work. 

“The Little Free Library project became the perfect conduit,” Anker says. “It was heart-warming to hear back from each community leader who indicated interest in having one placed in their village. Their willingness to help us spread the love of the cooperative was encouraging.”

All four libraries are registered on Visit the site, select World Map, Library Name and enter Menard Electric to see each displayed.

Menard Electric will continue to maintain and stock the libraries, benefiting readers of all ages for years to come.

Other co-ops opted for beautification projects in their local areas. Nine volunteers from Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative (RECC), Auburn, tackled various projects at Sangchris Lake State Park including rocking a 300-foot walking trail, installing a flagpole, trimming a quarter-mile trail leading to a cemetery, replacing a security light, and painting two of the park’s pavilions. Site Superintendent Jamie Hopper says he’s grateful for the work performed by the co-op volunteers and is impressed by the number of projects completed in a single day.

Volunteers from Shelby Electric Cooperative, Shelbyville; Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative, Mattoon; and Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative, Dongola, tackled maintenance at parks, public areas, nature centers and roadside cleanup. Egyptian Electric Cooperative, Murphysboro, undertook scrap metal recycling and raised nearly $11,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

For their project, employees and family members from Corn Belt Energy, Bloomington, spent a day with developmentally disabled residents of Marcfirst houses in the co-op’s service territory. The volunteers did yardwork, socialized with residents and helped them decorate pumpkins.

The pandemic has caused food shortages everywhere and co-ops helped fill the gap. Employees at Adams Electric, Camp Point; Illinois Electric, Winchester; and the AIEC, Springfield, donated canned goods and household supplies to help stock food pantries and distribution centers in their service areas, and prepared food for the homeless and other causes.

Annual co-op events held during October also contributed to this year’s program. Proceeds from a pecan sales fundraiser at Tri-County Electric, Mt. Vernon, went to local charitable organizations, a hospital, food and rent for needy residents, and to support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Volunteers from Shelby Electric, neighboring co-ops and community members donated more than 628 hours of community service to this year’s Touchstone Energy Balloon Fest in Shelbyville. With spectacular color and the excitement of balloon flights and glows, the event annually draws visitors from multiple states, creates significant economic impact for local businesses and raises money for charities.

Even four-legged community members benefited from service projects. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create staff, food and supply shortages at animal care facilities. Employees from Jo-Carroll Energy, Elizabeth, and M.J.M. Electric Cooperative, Carlinville, volunteered at local facilities providing animals much-needed socialization and exercise and assisted with cleaning and laundry. Donations from M.J.M. Electric employees helped pay for food, cat litter and other supplies. The volunteers plan to continue providing services to their respective centers.

Through the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Community Service project, co-ops stepped up to help fill current community needs and planted seeds that will continue to pay dividends for generations to come.

Author’s note

“The statewide project was truly a win-win venture. The co-ops pulled together unique and meaningful projects for the benefit of their communities. They had fun executing them and demonstrated that they’re not just electric providers; they care about those in the communities they serve. Because co-ops are closely affiliated, their employees share experiences with their peers and through group brainstorming develop new and exciting community service projects for future years.”

– Nancy McDonald, AIEC, vice president of member services and statewide Touchstone Energy liaison