New Nonprofit Aids Children of Deceased Cooperative Workers
David Callis has seen a lot in his three-decade career in electrical co-ops. But the recently retired CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association said one image he has had is a boy’s face at the funeral of his father, a Co-op employee who died suddenly.
It was that memory, he said, that prompted him to volunteer on the board of the Cooperative Family Fund, a new nonprofit that provides financial assistance to children whose parents die while employed by an electrical cooperative.
“This fund would have been a tremendous help to this family if it had existed at the time,” Callis said. “Now I have something to share and be proud of.”
The fund was created after Tony Anderson, general manager of the Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Grawn, Michigan, which has supported Big Brothers/Big Sisters for decades, pitched the idea to the board of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. (CFC) presented. including a fundraising marathon in each state.
The mission of the Cooperative Family Fund is to provide any child of a parent who dies as an active employee of a Cooperative with an escrow account that will be available to the child on their 18th birthday. CFC helped certify the organization as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit and accepted donations on January 6th. NRECA’s Homestead Advisers will administer the trust accounts.
“Electrical cooperatives care deeply about their communities and their employees are family members,” said Jim Matheson, CEO of NRECA. “This fund will help employees’ families through their darkest days and educate them on their co-op concerns.”
“We appreciate the opportunity to provide investment expertise in support of such a compassionate and meaningful cause,” said Mark Santero, CEO of Homestead. “It really goes to the heart of our employees.”
The fund’s volunteers also help co-ops create a memory book for the employee’s family and coordinate other ways to care for the grieving family, such as B. organizing groups to participate in children’s concerts, sporting events or other milestones.
“These children are on a journey that will last the rest of their lives and there are few ways we can help them on that journey,” said Anderson, who lost his father when he was 18 months old. “My dream is to have 20 co-op workers at a ball game for this kid.”
“After the loss, these children are still reminded that they belong to a co-operative family,” he said.
As soon as the organization learns of the death of a co-op employee, a board member will contact the co-op and provide information on how the family can apply for the fund and how the co-op will start collecting information and photos for the memory book can start and offer support.
In addition to Callis, the fund’s board includes:
- Vice President Alan Wattles, CEO of the Monroe County Electric Cooperative.
- Secretary Kris DeJarnette, Vice President of Marketing and Digital Strategy at CFC.
- Treasurer Dennis McFee, vice president of member services and communications for Roanoke Electric Cooperative.
- Anne Harvey, Senior Vice President of Member Solutions at Pioneer Utility Resources.
- Kerrie Robison, Head of Human Resources at KAMO Power.
Robison, a mother of four, said she was moved to learn about the fund at the G&T Human Resources Association annual meeting in 2022.
“Being in HR, I know these are the most difficult conversations,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do or say to help. This is where the cooperative family fund comes into play. The fund will get them exactly the help they need.”
As of early February this year, five employees at the electrical co-op have died, leaving a total of 15 children under the age of 18 without fathers, Robison said.
“As co-op workers, we feel embraced by the co-op, that everyday family feeling,” she said. “It’s only right that we extend that to the children who have lost a father or mother.”
Cathy Cash is a staff member at NRECA.