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Employees Serving Beyond Sam Houston Electric Cooperative’s Membership

Employees Serving Beyond Sam Houston Electric Cooperative’s Membership

Cooperative principle number six is “Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” which has guided cooperatives since 1844. It has served electric cooperatives well when responding to hurricanes and storms. However, it serves us equally well when communicating with our members.

Chief Communications Officer Keith Stapleton, Communications Specialist Mary Kate Pedigo and Member Services Manager Ricky Harrell each are involved with different groups to share their knowledge with cooperative employees around the county.

“We are one industry made up of individual cooperatives,” Stapleton said. “No one electric cooperative has all of the answers. We are better when we work together.”

Harrell serves on the Texas Member Services Association advisory board; a group that helps Texas Electric Cooperatives plan a conference for member service associates, managers and communicators.

“We research what issues cooperatives in Texas are facing, and what topics they want to know more about,” Harrell said. “Then, we find individuals who have dealt with each issue successfully, and invite them to speak at the conference.”

TEC organizes the state into seven regions, and Sam Houston EC is a part of region one. Harrell represents most of east Texas.

“Our goal is to put together a conference that covers many areas, topics and different issues,” Harrell said.

Harrell enjoys serving on the board because, “I have the opportunity to learn a lot from employees at other cooperatives. Each cooperative is structured differently, and member services can cover different duties, which are interesting to learn about.”

“I’m more of a listener, but I can share what Sam Houston EC is doing to help other member service departments,” Harrell said. “You also get to meet people that you can call when you need help or advice.”

Stapleton was invited to serve on the Council of Rural Electric Communicators in 2007. CREC works with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and other organizations to emphasize the importance of communication as a strategic management function, identify cooperative issues and create strategies for these issues and to develop educational opportunities for electric cooperative communicators.

“I found it to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my 31 years in the business,” Stapleton said. “Simply the involvement at a national level with this group of passionate cooperative communicators makes us a better Co-op and helps us to serve our members better. After all, that’s why we’re here.”

The Council has three main educational projects: The Certified Cooperative Communicator program, the Spotlight on Excellence awards and the J.C. Brown Award, and the New Communicator Orientation.

“As council members, we take great effort to listen to our members and inform members about the cooperative difference,” Stapleton said. “What this means is that they’re not simply members, but engaged co-op members. Most of us don’t remember when the lights came on in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but Co-ops have a rich history and legacy. It’s important for us to continue to emphasize the co-ops serving rural America.”

Like the Texas Member Service Association, knowledge is shared between the CREC board members from across the nation.

“I can share with others what has and has not been successful [at Sam Houston EC],” Stapleton said. “On the flip side, my fellow members can share what has been successful for them. No matter their location, the heart for serving is the same. When passionate, like-minded people get together, great things can happen for our members.”

Pedigo serves on the Certified Cooperative Communicator board of directors as well as the Touchstone Energy cooperative relations advisory committee.

“I take time to participate in these roles because I’ve been very fortunate to work for an outstanding electric cooperative,” Pedigo said. “I’ve had many opportunities to grow and learn as a communicator in a relatively short amount of time”

CCC, which is overseen by CREC, promotes, manages and administers the CCC program and certification. The certification includes three steps: applying to the program, submitting an application and taking a test covering communication knowledge, cooperative history and electricity topics.

“The CCC board gives me a platform to encourage other communicators to take the next step in their professional careers and pursue the certification,” Pedigo said.

The TSE advisory committee provides guidance to Touchstone Energy’s national staff on their programs and products. According to Pedigo, the committee helps, “to ensure cooperatives across the country are getting the most out of their Touchstone Energy investment.”

“If something I’ve experienced can help another communicator be successful, it makes my efforts worthwhile,” Pedigo said. “It’s part of our guiding cooperative principles.”

As Pedigo mentioned, she, Harrell and Stapleton are able to implement cooperative principle number six, Cooperation Among Cooperatives through their involvement. By sharing their knowledge and learning from other cooperative employees, they become better equipped to help Sam Houston EC’s members.

“Our knowledge base is bigger and our resources are better when we cooperate with our fellow cooperatives,” Stapleton said. “Cooperatives serve 42 million people in this country and 80 percent of the counties across America. These are powerful numbers. Those people need electricity first and they need us to be looking out for their best interests.”