Editorial: A utility’s customers and their shared belief
Dec 15, 2013 | 458 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Cleveland Utilities gets behind a cause, it is traditionally for the collective good of the Cleveland and Bradley County community.

When Cleveland Utilities customers get behind a cause, it is generally for the support of Cleveland and Bradley County residents.

And when the two form a partnership that creates a cause, it is inarguably for the betterment of all things bad and for the protection of all lives in limbo.

Such a team approach was launched in late December 2012. A year later, its successes have exceeded all expectations. And its potential for bringing aid to local families who need it most remains unlimited.

We refer to Project Round-Up, an emergency fund compassionately designed by Cleveland Utilities, spiritedly supported by the utility’s customers and responsibly coordinated by a third-party nonprofit whose social workers guard the program’s integrity through discipline that focuses on client accountability and face-to-face respect.

For any who are unfamiliar with its purpose, Project Round-Up provides emergency assistance for struggling Cleveland and Bradley County families who are faced with having their utility services disconnected or being evicted from rental housing — both due to payment delinquency.

Such pitfalls are the sad reality of a sluggish economy whose rebound from The Great Recession continues to plague good people who are confronting bad times.

Unemployment in Bradley County remains a matter of perspective. To those more prone to the positive, it is “only” 7.6 percent. To those impacted by its grip, it is “still” 7.6 percent.

Inflation, another subject of debate between the “haves” and “have-nots,” continues to take a painful toll on local paychecks that are already stretched in too many directions.

Rising costs in health care, and especially insurance premiums, create juggling acts within many households that face day-to-day and week-to-week decisions on that which gets paid and that which awaits the next payday.

And sometimes these dilemmas have no answer. Some bills go unpaid. Others get partial payment. Such decisions are not a choice. They are a circumstance.

Those who designed Project Round-Up a year ago understood the need in Bradley County.

Those who reached out to the community to support this innovative initiative understood the willingness to help that dwells within the hearts and homes of so many.

Those who sought a third-party administrator (United Way of Bradley County and The Caring Place) understood the accountability that must surround any endeavor involving the donated dollars of goodwilled contributors.

Utility customers feel the frustration of an occasional increased rate or a mid-winter heating bill that dips too deeply into checking accounts. Utility companies feel the same frustration at being the bearer of such bad news.

Yet, when faced with the reality of Bradley County families cowering in the cold of January or being booted from modest homes due to unpaid rent, customers and their utility providers join hands in a humanitarian partnership.

In Cleveland, it is Project Round-Up and its concept is simple. Monthly utility bills are “rounded up” to the next dollar. The loose change is transfered into a Cleveland Utilities emergency account. These funds are then provided to The Caring Place whose social workers differentiate want from need.

In its first 12 months, CU customers have shown a staunch belief in this voluntary program. Some 81 percent continue to allow on average 50 cents per month to be added to their utility statements for the benefit of the project and the good of its legitimate recipients.

As just an example, here’s how it works. If your utility bill is $36.73, it would be “rounded up” to $37 and the 27 cents in change would go to Project Round-Up.

After one year, warmhearted CU customers have contributed $174,597.42. Original projections forecast about $100,000 in donations for the first year. In the same period, some 727 local families have been aided so far with utility or rent assistance.

In the assessment of Cleveland Utilities President and CEO Ken Webb, customer response has been amazing.

Webb gives credit where credit is fully due by offering this perspective, “The success of this program is not Cleveland Utilities’ success. It is our customers who have done it. I would like to personally thank our customers who are participating in it.”

Success builds upon itself.

Its positive impact blooms like a spring flower when warm hearts partner with open minds.

Yet, such success is not best measured in numbers. Rather, it is the outreach itself that best defines the impact.

When people believe in a cause, they will embrace its worth.

Cleveland Utilities customers have given Project Round-Up a resounding hug. Its warmth spans all seasons.