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I&M opens service center doors to community

by on August 16, 2012

(Story by Yavonda Ulfig)

SOUTH BEND — You couldn’t help but notice the excitement that lit up 10-year-old Graham Harding’s face as line mechanics strapped on his harness and carefully walked him up the steps of their bucket truck.

Graham, son of Gene Harding, associate professor at the Purdue University College of Technology in South Bend, waited eagerly as the bucket soon rose about 60 feet off the ground, giving him a bird’s eye view of the Benton Harbor Service Center.

Commercial and industrial customers enjoyed mingling and learning about Indiana Michigan Power operations during a Power Breakfast in Marion, Ind.

This was his second time up in the bucket that day. And if he had his way, he probably would have taken 10 more rides into the sky.

The free bucket ride was just one of the many attractions that drew attendees’ interest during a series of open houses that have taken place across Indiana Michigan Power Company’s service territory over the past few months. Often called “Power Breakfasts,” the open houses were developed to create yet another avenue for educating customers about our business while simultaneously strengthening relationships with people in the communities we serve.

The breakfasts were hosted in Benton Harbor, South Bend, Elkhart, Fort Wayne, Muncie and Marion. The target audience included business and community leaders, local elected and appointed officials, and local economic development and Chamber officials. Still, some brought family members along for the ride (like the young Graham) and, in some instances, passers-by who noticed the open house signs pulled in to see what the buzz was all about.

Each of the open houses provided guests with a smorgasbord of educational opportunities, ranging from information about I&M’s forestry practices, to information about the value of electricity. And since food always makes any event better, coffee and food caterers ranging from Pete’s Duck Inn in the Muncie area to Bearclaw Coffee and Roger’s Foodland in Benton Harbor provided guests with their own offerings ranging from coffee drinks and smoothies, to breakfast burritos and casseroles. To inject a little extra fun into the morning, each location even hosted prize drawings for guests.

Open houses provide public with insights into electric utility operations

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the morning, however, was the chance to gain new insights into how the electric utility operates, to interface with employees, to ask questions, and to get answers. In particular, guests enjoyed gaining some new safety insights by witnessing a safety presentation conducted in South Bend and Benton Harbor featuring the Michigan District’s new Safety Trailer.

“Pop!” went part of the trailer as a makeshift squirrel made its way up a utility pole toward one of the display’s power lines in a demonstration of just how easily an animal-related service interruption can occur. In another demonstration, employees — all wearing protective clothing — lifted an aluminum ladder up toward the lines to illustrate the dangers of not watching out for overhead lines when working outdoors. From start to finish, the audience was engaged as they took away key lessons to help them keep safety top of mind at all times. 

During each of the breakfasts, guests also had a chance to see I&M’s plug-in hybrid electric Toyota Prius, while other guests were busy learning about the Energy Bike, which demonstrates just how much extra energy it takes to power an incandescent light bulb versus a compact fluorescent light or an LED bulb.

By visiting a number of stations that were positioned in the barns of each service center, guests also had a chance to:

  • Learn about the value of electricity through a Learning Map, fact sheets, and videos;
  • Gain information about energy efficiency through displays, conversations with members of I&M’s energy efficiency group, and discussions with representatives from Efficiency United (in Michigan) and Energizing Indiana (in Indiana) ;
  • See safety demonstrations through a table display;
  • Learn about various types of meters by speaking with a representative from MRO;
  • Meet customer service representatives for their respective areas;
  • Learn about I&M’s generation portfolio;
  • Talk with a representative from I&M Forestry about I&M’s vegetation management; and
  • Learn which organizations I&M has supported through donations and grants.

Open houses spotlight I&M community involvement, contributions

A couple of open houses also provided an opportunity to put the spotlight on a couple of organizations that were recently awarded an AEP Foundation Grant. In Muncie, for instance, a $100,000 check was presented to support the fundraising campaign of the Muncie campus of Ivy Tech Community College.

“Ultimately, it serves to help our students and helps prepare individuals who are going to be working in these communities in East Central Indiana and also individuals who will be giving back to these communities,” said Gail Chesterfield, chancellor of the East Central Region of Ivy Tech Community College.

Guests had an opportunity to check out I&M’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at each of the open house events.

 In Benton Harbor, the Area Agency on Aging was presented with a $100,000 check of their own from the AEP Foundation to fund the renovation and expansion of its building at 2900 Lakeview Avenue.

“This project could not happen without strong partnerships,” said Christine Vanlandingham, AAA fund and product development officer, in a release after the breakfast. “The AEP Foundation’s support of this project is vital to our ability to provide seniors and younger persons with disabilities with access to the information, services and support they need throughout the many stages of life. This gift will help make southwest Michigan a better place to live at any age.”

From organizing such check presentations, to arranging food, to volunteering to staff each station, all of the recent open houses would not have been possible without the collaboration of multiple departments and many employees’ hard work. A big THANK YOU to everyone who was involved the open houses for your sacrifice and your commitment to the mission. It was clear to see that it was a job well done as many of the attendees left with a sense of gratitude following each morning’s festivities.

“We enjoyed seeing your very well maintained facility, visiting the booths and a great breakfast,” said Kathy Baxter of the Glennbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne. “The demonstrators did an excellent job. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to go up on your lift. Thanks again for executing such a pleasant start to our day!”

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