Power That Persists: Power of Community
August 19, 2022
AS A COOPERATIVE, STEARNS ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION WAS FOUNDED ON THE SEVEN COOPERATIVE PRINCIPLES. ONE OF THOSE PRINCIPLES IS ‘CONCERN FOR COMMUNITY.’ WHAT BEGAN AS A PROMISE TO POWER RURAL COMMUNITIES ACROSS OUR SERVICE TERRITORY HAS GROWN INTO SEVERAL PROGRAMS FOCUSED ON MAKING OUR SERVICE TERRITORY A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE, WORK AND PLAY.
Since it was founded in 1937, Stearns Electric has been driven by people over profits; it is the cooperative difference. While investor-owned energy utilities focus on turning profits for their shareholders, electric cooperatives return margins to their members in the form of Capital Credits. Capital Credits are recorded on members’ accounts every year based on electric purchases during the year. The accounts are maintained until the Capital Credits are retired (paid back) to the member in full.
When the Board of Directors authorize a general retirement, Capital Credit checks are mailed to the last known address. Throughout the year, we continually update addresses to make sure we can connect with our members. When funds are not claimed or checks get returned without a forwarding address, the Cooperative holds onto them in search of the right member-owner. When Capital Credits go unclaimed for seven years or more, they are funneled into the Operation Round Up® program and distributed back to area community groups and organizations.
Through Operation Round Up®, participating members round up their electric bills to the nearest dollar. Rounded-up funds are placed into a trust fund and administered by a Trust Board made up of members from each district. Funds are given to local worthy causes and non-profit organizations.
This small amount of change really makes a large impact. Since the start of the program in 1993, over $2.8 million dollars has been distributed to over 5,000 worthy causes.
Operation Round Up® is just one community-focused program of the Cooperative. In the early 2000s, Stearns Electric employees created an internal program, which has transformed into the annual Charity Event.
Every fall, employees would bring in leftover produce from the garden so it wouldn’t go to waste. Employees were able to swap produce or buy fresh vegetables and flowers among themselves. As the event became more popular, a group of employees decided it might be nice to offer the program as a fundraising event for an external organization.
In 2008, the first United Way Kick-off and Silent Auction took place at the Co-op and over the years, the event has grown. Today, the annual Charity Event raises money for organizations selected by employees. Funds are raised by employees through a silent auction, in-kind donations, meat raffles and more.
“The Charity Event is such a unique and special event for Stearns Electric employees,” Katie Anderson, member and employee engagement coordinator, explains. “It starts and ends with the heart and generosity of our employees. Employees make a majority of the donations and choose the organization that will benefit each year. Money raised is given to local organizations that are directly impacting the communities and members that the Cooperative serves.”
In 2019, after much success with the Charity Event, a new Cooperative initiative called My Co-op Cares was launched. My Co-op Cares encompasses several community-facing programs Stearns Electric accomplishes, including three annual events of the same name.
Three times per year, Stearns Electric sends teams of employees out to local organizations and charitable causes to share their time and talents. Employees have painted fences, done yard work, stuffed food packs and gone fishing with nursing home residents.
“Our My Co-op Cares events benefit the organizations and individuals they serve with the work and time put in by our employees,” Anderson explained. “Plus, the intrinsic rewards and knowledge employees receive about these organizations is unmatched.”
Stearns Electric employees also show concern for their communities through the Cooperative’s internal wellness program. With a focus on supporting employees’ overall health, the Wellness For Life program hosts annual employee initiatives that directly benefit our local communities.
“Stearns Electric, as a cooperative, has always considered community involvement. However, since the inception of our Wellness For Life program in 2012, small seeds of ideas have grown into amazing programs which allow employees to use their time and talents to give back to our communities,” wellness coordinator Judy Terres-Madsen explained.
Some of the wellness programs include tying fleece blankets, hosting a “Sharing Our Blessings” donation drive and delivering May Day Baskets.
For the last two years, the Cooperative has sponsored the “Sharing Our Blessings” donation drive, which provides support to members of the community facing hardships. Employees contribute to this program through in-kind donations. The Cooperative has also hosted an internal “penny wars” competition and dunk tank to raise funds for the program over the last two years.
The May Day baskets is another program that started out as a small idea from an employee. Each year, a Cooperative department is chosen to create May Day baskets for an organization they choose. Items for the baskets are purchased related to the group’s needs. During working hours, the department meets to assemble and distribute the baskets on or around the first of May.
“For Stearns Electric, our May Day basket program displays the Cooperative spirit by coming together as a team to show kindness and support for others,” Terres-Madsen said. “Recipients have been thrilled to be acknowledged and receive these gift baskets.”
Stearns Electric prides itself as a cooperative and aims to follow the seven cooperative principles, including ‘concern for community.’ Electric cooperatives belong to the communities they serve, and these programs help Stearns Electric live out this principle, focusing on giving back to local communities within our service territory.
November 30, 2022
In September 2022, the Stearns Electric Association Board of Directors authorized a $1.1 million general retirement of Cooperative Capital Credits…