The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 21, 2013

Regulators, utility workers power up volunteerism in Joplin

JOPLIN, Mo. — Philip Jones came halfway across the nation to help spread the message that “Anybody Can Serve.”

Jones is president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He came from Olympia, Wash., on Monday to lend a hand in Joplin.

He and Robert Kenney, a Missouri Public Service Commission regulator, led volunteers from the PSC, Empire District Electric Co. and Missouri American Water Co. to assist with homebuilding projects for Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity.

After a morning of assembling walls for a house and storage shed, the volunteers were treated to a lunch of chicken enchilada soup served by members of South Joplin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

At the luncheon, Kenney explained that he has taken to heart an initiative introduced by the national group five years ago to carry out the mission of “Anybody Can Serve, So Let’s Conserve.” That involves volunteering on projects to make homes more energy efficient and other helpful efforts. He said the NARUC decided to participate in Martin Luther King Jr. Day by making it a time to serve others and promote volunteerism.

Jones said the NARUC is made up of about 120 regulatory commissions and their 8,000 staff members. The organization works to educate consumers about methods of reducing energy use and conserving natural resources.

He said he has read a number of stories about the devastation caused by the Joplin tornado. “I am moved and humbled to see the strength and resilience of your community firsthand,” he said.

The group’s efforts were making headway on a home for Stephanie Roper and her son, Trey. She had laryngitis and could not speak about the team’s work.

Kenney said the work “gives you a sense of pride and fulfillment, especially working with the family. Those of us blessed with good jobs have an obligation to do this” for other people, he said. He visited Joplin three to four weeks after the tornado in 2011 and said “the progress is amazing.”

Jones said he expected to see more rubble and devastation, but he was impressed with the amount of rebuilding that has been done and the quality of homes he visited.

Christie Barnhart, of Missouri American Water Co., said 10 volunteers were on hand from that company, some whom came from the company’s St. Louis office. “A lot of times when I volunteer, the work is not tangible,” she said. “This is very rewarding because you watch the teamwork come together.”

Working alongside the family that is to benefit from the effort was meaningful, she said. “It’s inspiration to work a little harder and a little faster,” she said.

Seven employees of Empire District built walls for the storage shed and for a house, said Brent Baker, director of customer service for the electric utility.

“We very much care about the communities we serve and want to be involved in helping any way we can,” Baker said.

Habitat track record

SCOTT CLAYTON, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, said 45 houses have been built since the 2011 tornado, 26 are in the works and more are to be started this year. Most of the houses were acquired by people who lost a house or apartment in the tornado.

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