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Making and raking a difference for our neighbors

November 25, 2022

Working to better our communities is something every employee at I&M strives to do, which is why we are honored when we get the opportunity to volunteer in the communities that we work and live in. From a Habitat for Humanity build in Fort Wayne to the 12th annual “Rake a Difference” day in Southwest Michigan, these are just a few of the examples on how we try to help.

On Nov. 10, more than 75 employees answered the call to help our neighbors in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties at the 12th annual United Way of Southwest Michigan's "Rake a Difference" event.

Volunteers from all three service centers in Michigan and Cook Nuclear Plant helped local senior citizens by raking leaves and cleaning gutters – important steps for winter preparation to help protect homes and lawns from damage during spring snow melt. "Rake a Difference" is a free service for seniors ages 60 and over who may not be physically able to perform the work or pay for similar services. Many seniors may otherwise attempt to do the work themselves, risking falls or serious injury.

"The homeowners we helped were very appreciative," said Mona Livingston, community affairs manager for I&M's South Bend, Elkhart and Southwest Michigan districts. "They were amazed that 'the power company folks would come out and help.' It was a great experience serving our communities and seeing the joy on the senior homeowners’ faces."

In total approximately 1,200 volunteers participated in "Rake a Difference", serving 270 homes.

That same spirit of making a difference could be seen when members of our customer service team met at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Fort Wayne build site.

“We've all done it in the past and it’s a great team building opportunity for us,” said Nick Elkins, Director of Customer Service and Business Development.

Habitat has seen an ever-increasing need for volunteers. That’s because the organization is working on a total of 19 houses in 2022, up from 12 in 2021. Volunteers, including some of our very own, donate hundreds of hours yearly to help with these builds.

One key part of Habitat’s plan is that partner families need to work 200 hours of “sweat equity,” by helping at the local Refresh store or helping with the builds. Organizers said this gives the families skin in the game and has proven successful.

Jessica Smith, one of Habitat’s partner families, worked alongside Nick’s team as they put soffit and siding on the home.

“It's a different experience. I’ve done a variety of jobs and got to learn almost everything there is when putting up a home,” Smith said. While the home on Butler Street wasn’t the one she’d soon call her own, Smith is set to own another of Habitat’s builds along Cherokee Road.

Working on the home was a chance to build bonds with those in Habitat, including the other partner families who are eager to help each other become homeowners in Fort Wayne. Many times, volunteers at one site will exchange numbers and assist on other builds together.

“It makes you feel excited, because you can see how your (house) may be,” Smith said.  Friday was also an important day for Smith. She was the first family from Habitat’s July 2022 group to complete all 200 of her sweat equity hours with the program.

Torey Harris, an I&M team member who was born and raised in Fort Wayne, said that projects like this can really make an impact.

“Folks are struggling and don't have the bandwidth, so projects like this allows us to give back,” Harris said. “I’m happy (I&M) gives us the opportunity to help where we live and work.”

I&M employees also partner with multiple organizations year-round to help better our communities including the United Way’s Day of Caring and Day of Action events.

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