Higher EducationFebruary 2021
From its inception, Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) has maintained a laser focus on advancing the quality of life in the communities where it operates. And as anyone familiar with the cooperative knows, that commitment extends well beyond day-to-day electric operations.
Each year, SVEC’s efforts include sponsorship of and participation in local events and making financial contributions to a long list of nonprofit organizations that serve the residents of the Suwannee Valley. SVEC employees also proudly demonstrate their care for the welfare of the community by participating in volunteer service projects and by donating money to benefit people in need.
“As a local consumer-owned cooperative, one of our core principles is concern for the community,” SVEC Executive Vice President/CEO Mike McWaters says. “We continually seek to engage in actions that enhance the quality of life in our four counties.”
The development and aspirations of the area’s young people have been a particular point of emphasis in SVEC’s communitywide efforts through Operation Round Up, youth tours of the state and national capitals, its college scholarship program, and sponsorship of numerous youth organizations and activities.
Operation Round Up®
In its two years, Operation Round Up has proven to be a resounding success. Over $216,000 in grants — 441 in all — were awarded to local teachers in 2019 and 2020 with funds generated by participating SVEC members who agree to round up their monthly electric bill to the next dollar. In 2020, the average member contribution per month was 50 cents.
Operation Round Up is SVEC’s effort to help meet the significant financial needs of local schools, with all money raised funding grants for equipment and supplies that benefit students in the classroom. Grants are made available to certified pre-K through 12th-grade teachers at accredited independent and private schools in SVEC’s service territory, at all public schools in Hamilton, Lafayette, and Suwannee counties, and the Five Points and Pinemount elementary schools in Columbia County.
The Operation Round Up board of directors determines grant recipients each year from among teacher applicants, who can apply individually or in groups, with a maximum grant of $500 per teacher per semester.
“I couldn’t be happier about the way the program has gone in its first two years,” says George Scott, president of the nine-member Operation Round Up board. “SVEC members who participate should be proud of their contributions to the quality of education in our schools. Teachers frequently tell us how grateful they are for the tools now available them through the grants.”
While Operation Round Up is one of its newest efforts to support local schools, SVEC’s Youth Tour program has sent select area high school juniors to the state capital in Tallahassee each February for more than four decades. The program also includes a tour of SVEC’s energy control center and other co-op facilities, as well as a chance to experience what the world looks like from a raised service bucket.
Tour participants are selected each year from a pool of eligible 11th graders who have a minimum weighted grade-point average of 3.0 and submit a 250- to 500-word essay. While in Tallahassee, tour participants explore the cooperative business model, as well as Florida’s legislative process, and also observe a mock trial at the state Supreme Court and a mock bill on the floor of the House of Representatives or Senate.
Afterward, two students are selected to represent SVEC at the National Rural Electric Youth Tour in Washington, D.C. On the paid trip, they join students from around the country on visits to sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Smithsonian Institution, and Mount Vernon. They also have the opportunity to meet with lawmakers who represent Florida.
Scholarships & Sponsorships
In addition to Operation Round Up and the annual Youth Tour, SVEC’s support of area students includes numerous other programs to aid in their development and continued education.
Since 2015, SVEC has awarded $48,500 in college scholarships to graduating high school seniors throughout the area
who are dependents of cooperative members. Applicants are recommended for a $1,000 scholarship based on their cumulative, unweighted grade-point average and the quality of their extracurricular, church, community, civic, work, and/or volunteer activities. They also must present two letters of recommendation and a 250- to 500-word essay on why they want to continue their education and how the scholarship would help them do so.
In 2020, SVEC also provided an additional $7,850 in sponsorships for schools, school clubs, and sports programs, and in January presented a total of $550 in art supplies to the four winners of its fifth grade Christmas card design contest and their respective teachers.
Last fall, SVEC conducted a new shoe drive for school-age children and donated 28 refurbished iPads to schools for use by teachers. Also, each year, SVEC heads into the classrooms throughout its service area to provide electrical safety demonstrations for students and teachers.
“SVEC continues to support the educational system of Suwannee County through countless donations including the Operation Round Up program, supporting teacher grants, and donating items requested by the district administration,” says Suwannee County School District Superintendent Ted Roush. “SVEC’s dedication to furthering educational opportunities for our young people is a testament to their investment in the future of our great county.”