Power to the People

Power to the PeopleGulf Power Transforms the Community Through a Nonprofit Employee Committee 

By Ashley Kahn

The only thing Gulf Power doesn’t give away is free power. Anything else goes, from time and money to manpower and smiles, and the results are electrifying.

Sandra Sims, manager of public affairs, said financial contributions are big at the powerhouse, both through the Gulf Power Foundation and a unique nonprofit employee committee dubbed the Gulf Power Transformers.

Sims was on the steering committee when the Transformer groups were chartered in 2003, the outcome of overwhelming external appeals for employee contributions. The committees have separate boards of directors and dues, but the parent company provides administrative support and foundation grant money.

“We were getting requests from everywhere, so we needed to maximize the effectiveness of employee contributions,” Sims says. “A lot of what people see out there as Gulf Power really is employee-driven … it starts at the ground level and works up.”

The Transformers decide which charities and events they want to support at quarterly meetings, to which families and retirees are invited. Members run the gamut from administrative assistants to linemen to managers to employees’ teenage children.

“Our mission statement talks about delivering safe, reliable, environmentally friendly energy to strong communities,” Sims says. “We take personal ownership of the ‘strong’ part.”

According to Sims, Gulf Power leads the area in United Way giving on a per-employee basis, a gift she finds especially rewarding because United Way dollars stretch to so many agencies. One of the biggest challenges at the Fort Walton office, in fact, is “deciding who gets to participate in Day of Caring and who has to stay at work to keep the doors open,” Sims says.

One agency adopted by Gulf Power’s Fort Walton office is the Coalition on the Homeless, which helps individuals transition from homelessness to stability. Families are permitted to stay for up to six months on the condition that they have a job. They pay “rent” inasmuch as the fees collected during their time at the home are turned back over to them at the end of their stay, to serve as deposits for utilities and rent.

The Transformers are creative in fundraising, hosting clay shoots and bass fishing tournaments, and selling candy bars at the cashier’s desk where power bills are paid.

In 2008, the Fort Walton Transformers made donations to the American Heart Association, Relay for Life, Hope House, Harvest Vineyard and the Life Enrichment Center, which is a group home and safe haven for teenage women.

“You can imagine the needs that group has … more than just paying the power bill,” Sims says.

One Saturday, the Transformers put on a “Day of Beauty” for the girls. They were treated to manicures, pedicures and makeovers by an employee who sells Mary Kay, and Kato donated brand new clothes in the girls’ sizes. On another occasion, the Transformers sponsored a trash pickup in the neighborhood of the LEC to demonstrate the merits of caring for the environment.

“We know here at Gulf Power that we’re very fortunate because we work for a company that has to be here,” Sims says. “We know we’re a monopoly but that doesn’t mean we can’t be community and customer focused.”

The impact of the Transformers’ efforts is greater than writing a check. It’s transformative.

“If you haven’t been touched by some need in the community, then your neighbor, your mom, your best friend has,” says Sims. “I have faith in this community. Whenever it recognizes a need, it fills that void. That’s why I live here.”