As a Noble REMC customer, I receive the electric cooperative’s monthly magazine, “Indiana Connection”. To my surprise, I turned the pages of the April edition and found myself on page 8, on a group photo of the first Noble REMC board members for Operation Round Up .
The photo and story celebrated Operation Round Up’s 20th anniversary of giving back to its client communities. REMC customers fund the program by voluntarily “rounding up” their electricity bills to the next dollar. The difference goes into the Operation Round Up pool, which will be distributed as grants to community non-profit organizations by selected board members in the co-op’s service area.
The Operation Round Up concept was created by an electric cooperative Palmetto Electric, in South Carolina. ORU has adopted two cooperative principles: cooperation between cooperatives and their members, and concern for the communities they serve.
Word of mouth about its success has reached other power cooperatives, including Noble REMC.
I joined the first Operation Round Up board with John English, Kevin Dreibelbis, Jule Farver, Lanette Likes, Tom Reed and Tod Croft. The board had a diverse background, adding community journalism, education, and banking and finance to the expertise of REMC staff.
It was new at the time, and we didn’t know if we would have anything to do. We wondered if REMC customers would accept the idea of paying a little more on their lighting bills and then donating the money.
My journey to serving on that first ORU Board of Directors was a “who you know” kind of thing. I was then working for The Evening Star in Auburn and brought my experience to several boards including Habitat for Humanity, Auburn Arts Commission, my church, several grants panels for Arts United and a few United Way committees. .
The Noble REMC Regional Manager for Fairfield Township, DeKalb County, at the time was dairy farmer Floyd Troyer, my neighbor and church member. Floyd cornered me after church on a Sunday morning, explained Operation Round Up and how he thought it would work, then asked me to be Fairfield’s rep.
“You work at the newspaper and you know everyone,” he said. “That would be a big help.”
I agreed to serve on the board, with some doubts about my usefulness.
I am sometimes shocked by my luck over the years. I have been allowed to share the same room with the brightest, smartest and most generous people in our community – and have been deemed worthy to work alongside them to improve our community.
As members of the Operation Round Up Board of Directors, we established a consensus early on that proper stewardship of Operation Round Up funds was essential in deciding grant allocations. We have agreed to spread the grants across the entire service area, while keeping real needs at the top of our criteria. We quickly realized what information from grant applicants would allow us to more easily assess applications.
Operation Round Up proved successful from the start, with 80% of Noble REMC members opting into the program. More than 85% of Noble REMC members participate today in Operation Round Up.
It was amazing to see how quickly these small sums were accumulating. The maximum contribution from a customer would be 99 cents per month. The average contribution was about 50 cents per month.
John English of Noble REMC led this first council.
“I was one of the many who helped start ORU. As far as the leadership of the volunteer council was concerned, it made perfect sense for someone from REMC to take the lead,” he said. he said, “The first grants council worked quite well and was made up of a geographically diverse group who gave feedback on grant applications. We didn’t always agree but left on good terms.”
English, now retired and living in Fishers near his family, said he recently heard that an Indiana state trooper had been promoted in the Fort Wayne district.
“One of our first grants was to help him get a K-9 dog to patrol Noble and LaGrange counties. It’s a special memory,” he said. “Those REMC members who have come together have helped so many school children and others. The credit goes to them.”
Kevin Dreibelbis, director of communications and marketing for the cooperative, was an employee when ORU started and also served on the first board of directors. He attributes the willingness of REMC members to give a small amount that can be turned into larger grants with greater influence in the community.
“I thought the idea of starting Operation Round Up at Noble REMC was perfect. It was a way for members (including myself) to give back to our community with little impact on their wallets,” said Dreibilbis “But when it all adds up, it has a huge impact on organizations, projects and community events. It seemed like an ideal program – it turns out it was and still is.” !”
Over the next two decades, Operation Round Up has funded more than 125 organizations and invested $903,730 in local communities in its service area.
None of us at that first council knew then if the idea of Operation Round Up would ever fly or succeed, but we had hope. I’m honored to have played a small part in starting what would become such a solid resource, still going strong after 20 years.
In the end, the credit goes to the members of Noble REMC, who are generous enough to give a little to do great things and who trust the cooperative as the steward of their donations.