The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has launched a nonprofit that will provide financial assistance to children whose parents die while employed in any occupation by an electric co-op in the USA.
Following the motto: “When you work for a co-op, you’re a part of an extended family”, the Cooperative Family Fund is the idea of Tony Anderson, general manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Grawn, Michigan, who pitched it to the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp (CFC) board of directors.
Anderson, a father of three, began his two-year term as president of the NRECA board in March.
His programme is open to any minor children who lose a parent employed by an electric co-op. They will receive a memory book with photos and stories from their deceased parent’s co-workers, a birthday card from their co-operative family annually until the age of 18, and a one-time monetary contribution when they turn 18 that can be used for college or any other expenses related to launching themselves into adulthood.
The fund will also coordinate other ways to care for the grieving family, such as organising groups to attend children’s recitals, sporting events or other milestones, and providing co-ops with resources on how to support grieving families.
The process of enrolling children in the fund will be done by each co-op’s HR department when a parent dies while actively employed with a co-op.
Donations to the fund can be made by any individual or organisation. While individual electric co-operatives do not have to contribute to the fund for their employees’ families to be eligible, the success of the fund is dependent on ongoing support from the sector.
Anderson, who lost his father when he was 18 months old, is also involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a nonprofit that provides youth mentoring services to the state of New Hampshire.
“These kids are on a journey that is going to last the rest of their lives,” he told NRECA. and there are little ways we can help them along that journey. My dream is to have 20 co-op employees at a ballgame for that kid.
“After the loss, these kids will still get a reminder that they belong to a co-op family.
“Electric co-ops care deeply about their communities and their employees are family,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “This fund will help staff families during their darkest days and let them know their co-op cares.”
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide investment expertise in support of such a compassionate and meaningful purpose,” said Homestead CEO Mark Santero. “This truly touches our employees’ hearts.”
Kerrie Robison, human resources director at KAMO Power, is one of six members on the board of the fund. A mother of four, she told NRECA she learned about the fund at the Annual G&T Human Resources Association meeting in 2022.
“Being in HR, I know that these are the hardest conversations to have,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do or say to help. That’s where Cooperative Family Fund comes into play. The fund will provide the exact help they need.”
Five electric co-op employees had lost their lives between January and February 2023, leaving a total of 15 children under the age of 18 without fathers, added Robison.
“As co-op employees, we feel embraced by the co-op, this daily sense of family,” she said. “It’s only right that we expand that to the children who have lost a father or mother.”
David Callis, the recently retired CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, is another member of the board. He got involved after witnessing the sorrow of the son of a colleague who had died unexpectedly.
“This fund would have been a tremendous assistance to that family if this was in place then,” he told NRECA. “Now I have something I can participate in and be proud of.”
The other members of the board of the Cooperative Family Fund are:
- Alan Wattles, CEO at Monroe County Electric Cooperative who will serve as vice president of the Fund
- Kris DeJarnette, vice president of marketing and digital strategy at CFC, who will be the Fund’s Secretary
- Dennis McFee, vice president of member services and communication at Roanoke Electric Cooperative, who will act as treasurer
- Anne Harvey, senior vice president of member solutions at Pioneer Utility Resources
The Cooperative Family Fund began accepting donations on 6 January. Employees can request more information about the fund and how to contribute to it by contacting [email protected]. Individual co-ops can reach out to their statewide organisation for guidance with the application process.
Individuals or organisations that make a donation by December 2023 will be recognised as a founding donor of the Cooperative Family Fund. To date, the fund has raised US$147,175 through over 160 donations.
According to the National Alliance for Grieving Children, an estimated six million children in the US will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. In 2021 alone 1,192 children were newly bereaved each day in the US.