BEMC lends a helping hand through community grants

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By Sharon Chance

Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation provides power for more than 75,000 members in four counties, but it’s the co-op’s “concern for community” that has benefitted Brunswick County residents even more.


BEMC provides assistance to area schools, offers to feed the hungry and has refurbished storm-ravaged homes. The co-op has made sizable donations for nonprofit organizations each and every year.

For Brunswick County residents, BEMC can be found nearby and is on call 24/7, 365 days a year.

BEMC does more than provide electricity for much of the southeastern region of North Carolina. Like a good neighbor, it provides support for a host of community organizations, said Heather Holbrook, supervisor for marketing communications.

Holbrook said the “cooperative was founded by locals to serve locals.”

“Like all co-ops, we’re guided by the Seven Cooperative Principles, one of which is Concern for Community,” Holbrook said. “We were founded to make our members’ lives better, and to work together to improve our communities. Our grants, scholarships and utility assistance programs are natural extensions of why BEMC exist because we feel a strong sense of responsibility to the members we serve. 

“We’re very proud to partner with dedicated teachers and civic organizations to help them in their good works, and to do our part to help the next generation succeed.”

In addition to providing significant support for many large local festivals,BEMC sponsored grants, scholarships, cultural events, and humanitarian efforts to the tune of $221,765 in 2018 alone.


Bright Ideas education grants

BEMC has funded 426 grants for K-12 classrooms, helping teachers provide much needed supplies and technology for their students.

For 25 years, BEMC has funded innovative classroom projects, providing items as simple as notebook paper and classroom sets of novels to Chromebooks and tools for robotics programs, according to BEMC Marketing Communications Assistant Sherry Skumanick. The grant program is the brainchild of a retiredco-op employee. Noticing a teacher purchasing school supplies for her students, the employee realized how much money individual teachers were spending from their own pockets on basic materials so no child had to do without.

“The program has evolved over time with an emphasis on innovation, but even today we find teachers applying for grants to cover additional school supplies for their students,” said Josh Winslow, CEO and general manager of BEMC. “We’re pleased to be able to help fund the educational needs of area students through a wide array of projects.”

In 2018, BEMC collected applications for Bright Ideas Grants from 35 Brunswick County educators. The co-op awarded $16,015 to 13 applicants for various projects.

COAST (Center of Applied Sciences and Technology) instructor Daniel Richardson received $1,300 to supplement the school’s Clean Energy Technologies program.

"The Bright Ideas grant from BEMC provided an awesome opportunity to take my curriculum to the next level as it relates to student interest and engagement,” Richardson said. “I used my grant funding to purchase battery powered go-carts that Clean Energy Technology students use as an extension to our study of battery electric vehicles. Students had a blast riding the carts, while at the same time learning to calculate battery surge power, velocity and efficiency.

“While the district does an excellent job of providing for the students and teachers of Brunswick County Schools, grants like this provide educators with an avenue to further explore exciting and innovative learning opportunities for their students. I am thankful for the support BEMC provides to the community, and encourage any teacher with an innovative idea to apply for the Bright Ideas grant program."

The co-op is currently accepting Bright Ideas applications now through Sept. 23.


Scholarship Highway

Each year, BEMC awards scholarships to students ready to pursue a college degree. In 2019, Luke A. Conner of Leland received the $5,000 scholarship. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic achievement, community participation, school activities, SAT scores, letters of reference and a 1,500-word essay.

“I was so honored and humbled to be selected from the field of highly qualified peers who applied for this year’s BEMC Scholarship,” Conner wrote. “It’s awesome to know that BEMC has been supporting local youth for so many years in so many ways. I am so grateful for BEMC’s investment in local students’ education at all levels. 

“To personally benefit myself by being selected as a scholarship recipient this year is a huge blessing to me and my family.  It seems like every other day there are stories in the news about the student loan debt crisis, and I am trying to be resourceful, frugal and creative in efforts to avoid being part of that to the greatest degree possible. Along with working part-time, saving hard and my family’s sacrifices, the generosity of BEMC will enable me to accept a spot in UNCW’s Honors College without the stress and burden of burying myself under thousands of dollars in student loan debt. What a relief and blessing that is! 

“The scholarship from BEMC will help ease the stress of the financial hardships associated with college and allow me the opportunity to focus more on coursework, volunteer services and getting off to a solid start during my freshman year. I am planning to major in physics and minor in biology at UNCW with the ultimate goal of dental school, so I need a strong start.

“I would encourage the Class of 2020 to apply for local scholarships and invest some time in their essays. Although I worked hard to be a good student, I was not at the very top of my graduating class, so I hope others would not let their class rank deter them from applying next year because putting forth time and effort in an essay can make a big difference in scholarships. Thanks for your support, BEMC!”

This year marks the 11th year BEMC has awarded scholarships to graduating high school seniors in Brunswick County.

“While we recognize the importance of supporting education at all levels, the Scholarship Highway program helps young people like Luke successfully pursue higher education groups,” BEMC manager Winslow said. “Now we have a growing group of scholarship winners who are achieving great things during their college careers and beyond.”

High school seniors may begin applying for this scholarship this winter. Online applications will be posted by mid-December. Students may obtain application packets from their high school guidance counselor. Applications must be submitted by the mid-March deadline. Seniors must meet criteria including being a U.S. citizen, must attend a high school in Brunswick County, must live in a residence served by BEMC, must be a dependent of a co-op member with a permanent primary residence that currently receives electric service from BEMC, have been accepted at an accredited two-year community college, four-year college or a vocational / technical school, for full-time status of 12 or more credit hours; and plan to start school in the fall of the award year.

All completed applications must be submitted through the student's guidance counselor by the application deadline.


Youth tour in Washington, D.C.

Since the 1950s, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Associationhas provided nearly 50,000 high school students an opportunity to visit the nation’s capital. This past June, North Brunswick High School junior Bailey Cameron Smith joined 1,800 high school students from across the United States for a weeklong tour, including opportunities to visit historic sites and museums. The Youth Tour also allowed students to meet their Congressional Representatives and Senators.

“This is a valuable opportunity for students to see government in action, to meet with policy makers in our nation’s capitol and to learn how a cooperative works,” Winslow said.

Students also study the importance of civic engagement. Participation in the youth tour garners points toward scholarship opportunities, according to Holbrook.

Rising high school juniors and seniors with a minimum GPA of 3.0 are encouraged to apply. Completed applications must be mailed to BEMC by January 15, 2019.


Sports camp scholarships

Through the NC Electric Membership Cooperative, the co-op also invites middle school students to apply for sports camp scholarships. In June, two Brunswick County middle school students attended basketball camps at two of the state’s largest college campuses, Holbrook said.

Emily Price, a Cedar Grove student, attended the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball Camp at North Carolina State University.

“The basketball camp was awesome, I think it was fun and a hardworking program for everyone to learn more basketball skills,” said Price. “I like how they split us up into teams and we played each other. We were learning and having fun at the same time. I met a lot of new people that share the liking of basketball like I do. I learned new skills that I could use this year on my basketball team. I think it was fun and well worth the essays I wrote. I think more kids my age should get involved and try to get into this program. Another thing I found cool is that the coaches that were coaching us are basketball players for North Carolina State University.

“I feel like I’ve improved my basketball skills and learned a lot more about basketball and I hope these skills I learned I can use them to improve my game.”

Josiah Johnson attended the Roy Williams Carolina Basketball Camp at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Johnson attends Leland Middle School.

“Students are selected by a panel of judges based on an application that included academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and an essay,” she said.

During the overnight camps, students worked to develop and improve their basketball skills and sportsmanship as they worked with the collegiate coaching staff and student athletes.

This past summer marked the 14th year the co-op provided funding for two local student athletes to attend the camps.

This program is open to rising sixth, seventh or eighth graders at a qualifying school in Brunswick County and will be judged on their academics, extracurricular activities and an essay.

Scholarship applications are currently being acceptedyoung men can apply to attend the Roy Williams Carolina Basketball Camp the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and young women can apply to attend the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball Camp at N.C. State University in Raleigh. All applications must be postmarked by March 31.

Applications may be found online at www.ncelectriccooperatives.com/in-the-community/sportscamps.


Storm relief

Following Hurricane Florence, surrounding counties, states, and numerous agencies generously extended hands to help Brunswick County residents get back on their feet. BEMC donated $50,000 to Brunswick Family Assistance in collaboration with CoBank.

CoBank is a national cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America.


“Our members were hit hard,” said former general manager and CEO Don Hughes, who retired this year after nearly 50 years with the co-op. “The decision to help was simple; the challenge was how to help the most people


Community grants

Since 2003, Brunswick Electric has been providing grants to community groups and non-profit organizations that make a difference in the lives of its members through the Community Grants program. Eligible groups may apply for grants up to $2,500 each year for projects that fall into these five key areas: family services, civic and community programs, cultural and arts programs, emergency services, and economic development.

Funding for this program comes from the equipment auction during the BEMC Annual Meeting held the fourth Saturday each September. Since its inception, more than $533,000 has been awarded to local communities.

Applications are accepted Dec. 1 through Feb. 15 annually. Grants are awarded in the spring.


Utility assistance

The Warm Homes, Warm Hearts utilityassistance program began in 2008. This program gives members in this service territory the opportunity to help keep their neighbors warm during winter by donating funds to this campaign. Every year, BEMC provides up to $50,000 in matching funds for all donations from the community. The donated funds may go to help an elderly resident, a struggling young family, or someone who has been swamped with unexpected medical bills or a job layoff.

“They are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” said Stephanie Bowen, executive director of Brunswick Family Assistance. “I cannot say enough good things about them. They provide large sums of money to help our clients, especially during the winter months.

“Every time I go down there, they are always willing to help. From the CEO to the administrative staff, everyone is so kind. You can just tell they genuinely want to help the community. I love BEMC.”

BEMC employees and board members kick off the annual campaign in late summer or early fall with their own individual donations and proceeds from fundraising raffles and other events. Together with the community and BEMC matching funds, more than $1 million has been raised to help thousands of local families and senior citizens.
All funds are administered through Brunswick Family Assistance. Eligibility to receive assistance is determined by those agencies.

“We hold our Annual Employee Day in November where all 163 of us plus the board gather,” Holbrook said. “We kick off the WHWH campaign with very high employee participation. Then throughout the year we match member contributions.

“In 2018 we did surpass our goal of $100,000 total ($79,500 from members in addition to BEMC's $50,000 match), a total of $129,500 for utility assistance with a majority of that going to Brunswick County. Technically we have about $16 thousand in funds so far including members’ contributions.

“We invite all members of the community to join this effort. Let’s not leave anyone out in the cold this winter.”


Sharon Chance is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or schance@brunswickbeacon.com.