Friday, December 9, 2016

We Energies sponsors Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome, but what are we overcoming?” asked Maurice Willis, a student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School and winner of the third and fourth grade division at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech contest.

He proceeded to outline challenges he sees in his community: “I know my neighborhood is not the greatest. But I know with education and determination I can make it a better place for the next generation of youth to come!”

His speech was one of 30 student speeches delivered on Dec. 3 in the Public Service Building auditorium at We Energies on the theme “We shall overcome.” Dr. King’s most notable use of “We shall overcome” was in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10.

Portia Young of Sargento Foods was the guest emcee, introducing students in kindergarten through grade 12 who spoke on the theme. Their families, friends and teachers gathered in the auditorium to hear them present. First-, second- and third-place medals were awarded in each grade category.

Imajyne Robertson-Hodges won her division, kindergarten through second grade. She is a second-grader at Elm Creative Arts School. “My art teacher signed me up for this because she knew I could do it,” she said. “My family is so happy, and my art teacher is too! It’s a whole big thing for me!”

Imajyne Robertson-Hodges, winner of the grade K-2 division.
From the youngest to the oldest, students tackled big issues. Racism, prejudice and violence were noted as some of the main problems students strived to overcome, both globally and in their communities. While some students were specific in combatting issues, others spoke more broadly. Many students did their research and cited statistics. Others quoted famous leaders, especially Dr. King. 

“We have to learn to overcome our own issues before we take on the world,” said Maranda Brown, a senior at Eastbrook Academy, in her impassioned speech that won the 11th-12th grade division.

“When I gave my speech today, I gave it from my heart,” said Brown. “It wasn’t about the accolades or the praise or anything like that. It was telling my story and trying to get a message through: here’s my story, and here’s how you can overcome. I hope the listeners felt and heard and took heed to the words I had to say.”

Willis, Robertson-Hodges, Brown and the other students who won their divisions will give their speeches and receive awards at the 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee on Jan. 15, 2017.

Eastbrook Academy had four winners: At top left, Maranda Brown,
first in grade 11-12 division; Ariana Cawthorn, second in grade 9-10
division. Front left, Benji Johnston, second in grade 3-4 division;
Praise Ayodabo, third in grade K-2 division.

Finalists in grade 3-4 division from left, Jordan Cameron, Hawthorne Elementary, third place; Benji Johnston, Eastbrook Academy, second place; Maurice Willis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, first place; Elizabeth Roque-Frias, Grant School; Desiree Morris, Emerson Elementary.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Much-needed service dog provided to employee family

For the first time in its history, the We Energies Employes’ Mutual Benefit Association (EMBA) provided a service dog: specifically a long-haired German shepherd named Stryker to a deserving Army veteran, who is also the wife of a We Energies employee. Historically, this group has assisted employees who are sick or injured, helping them focus on recovery and return more quickly to their normal lives.

Katie Stemen, Stryker and Andrew Stemen.
Stryker is no ordinary canine. He has been specially trained to be a service dog providing companionship and aided mobility to U.S. Army veteran Katie Stemen, wife of Andrew Stemen, an employee at the We Energies’ Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan. Katie’s multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq left her with serious health issues. She hoped the best solution to help her with the mental and physical strains of life after the military would be a service dog. But they are expensive to train, and there’s a waiting list to get one. 

Dogs like Stryker can provide life-changing assistance to veterans like Katie. If a cane is dropped, the dog could fetch it. If her balance is lost, he could help keep her upright. If she experiences anxiety and fear in public, having a dog at her side would ease her mind. Andrew – who served in the National Guard– noted the importance of having a “battle buddy.” Andrew explained that in the Army, a soldier always has another soldier as a battle buddy. He thinks that many veterans face losing that sense of security and team mentality when they return home. For a veteran, he said, “a dog helps fill the role of a battle buddy.”

Katie found a trainer in Michigan, Ron Monroe, a former canine officer with the Military Police Corps. He offers a reduced rate to train service dogs for veterans. Monroe’s work is inspired by the difference a service dog makes in the life of a veteran. “The confidence and security a veteran gains from having a German shepherd dog at their side gives them the gift of being more comfortable in public situations,” Monroe said. “It gives them their independence.”

According to Monroe, service dog training is a growing industry and an important element of welcoming veterans home. “Society is realizing one way we can give back to our veterans is to accommodate them with their animals. And the public appreciates seeing a good team work
It was through Monroe that Katie met her service dog. His name was initially Ryker, but Katie asked his name be changed to Stryker after the armored vehicles she operated from while on duty. Katie and Stryker were an immediate match. But the cost of a service dog, even at a reduced rate, was too high for the family. This was where Andrew’s boss, Scott Gygi, a supervisor at the power plant, contacted the EMBA. He had positive experiences with the organization previously, and hoped they might be able to help the Stemens. “Scott was the driving force,” said Andrew. “He got the wheels in motion.”

The EMBA received the request for assistance and it was granted. The committee, made up of We Energies employees, agreed to cover the cost of Stryker’s training. As a fraternal benefit society, the EMBA Emergency Fund operates much like a nonprofit, only one that is based completely on the generosity of employee donations. Andrew has seen the good it is doing for his own family and his work community. “It’s great to see the money you donate come back to the employees locally,” he said.

The EMBA is governed by the state of Wisconsin’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and is licensed to do business in Wisconsin and Michigan. It currently has 15 chapters that each elect a director along with six company-appointed directors to comprise its board. The organization dates back to 1912, when its original purpose was to provide benefits and medical care to employees and their families.

The emergency fund started not long after to assist employees who fell on hard times. “Things happen,” EMBA Secretary Joe Kopinski said. “You’ll never know when they’ll happen, and that fund is there when they do. It’s a really neat thing and a really proud thing for me to be able to deliver a check to someone in need and see the relief that comes when the financial burden is taken off their shoulders.”

Andrew echoes that desire for normalcy. He and Katie hope having a service dog will help and they are looking forward to that. “The EMBA is helping us out big time,” said Andrew. “It takes a big burden off of us, and it’s made the experience much more enjoyable and easier to do, and we are very grateful for that.”

Stryker and Katie during the 
training process.
Learn more about trainer Ron Monroe on Facebook: Max's K9 Obedience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: foam insulators

Do the light switches and electrical outlets on your outer walls feel cool? Even worse, can you feel cold air flowing in? Stop the heat leaks with foam insulators. Packs are available for less than $5 at most home improvement and hardware stores, and they install in six easy steps.
  • Go to circuit breaker box and turn off breaker for switch or outlet.
  • Remove switch or outlet plate.
  • Use circuit or voltage tester to be sure power is off.
  • Remove pre-cut inserts from gasket and press gasket over switch or outlet.
  • Replace plate.
  • Turn breaker on.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: window insulation

Window insulation. Insulation film. Shrink wrap. Whatever you call it, you’ve no doubt seen windows each winter with added layers of plastic film. That’s because, as thin and transparent as they are, the window insulation kits work. Best of all, they’re easy and inexpensive to install. Many kits sell for around $15 and some for less than $5.

Once you get the kit home:
  • Apply tape around window frame.
  • Peel off tape liner to expose adhesive.
  • Unfold plastic and cut to size, leaving an extra 2 inches on all sides.
  • Press plastic firmly to tape, starting at top of window.
  • Use hairdryer on hottest setting to tighten plastic and remove all wrinkles and creases. Hold hairdryer a few inches away from plastic and move it back and forth. Don’t touch plastic with hairdryer. 

In spring, heat the tape with the hairdryer to loosen the adhesive, then slowly peel off the insulation and adhesive.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Prepare your home for winter: weatherstripping

Spaces around windows and doors can be big culprits of drafty, cold air. That’s where weatherstripping comes in. It fills the gaps and creates a tighter seal. Rolls start at just a few dollars at most home improvement and hardware stores and are easy to install.

Installation tips 

  • Look for gaps and feel for drafts around windows and doors.
  • Clean areas where self-adhesive weatherstripping will be installed.
  • Measure space, then measure weatherstripping and cut to length.
  • Apply weatherstripping along edge.
Once you close the window or door, you should have a nice, tight seal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saving energy in the kitchen

From roasts browning in the oven to sauces bubbling on the stovetop, homemade dishes feature proudly during the holidays. As the weather grows colder and families gather, you might find yourself spending more time – and using more energy – in the kitchen. These cooking tips will help you enjoy holiday feasts without compromising on energy efficiency.

Be prepared

Slice your vegetables and meats, measure out your spices and mix your ingredients before you turn on the oven or range. If everything is ready to go, you will avoid long gaps between cooking steps and make good use of your heat.

Thawing frozen foods is important. If you cover that Thanksgiving turkey and leave it in the refrigerator for a few days (approximately 24 hours for every 4 pounds), you’ll reduce the work your oven needs to do, and the cold turkey will make the fridge more efficient.

Wasted space means wasted energy

When you fill your refrigerator and freezer, you actually improve efficiency – to an extent. Empty fridges and freezers lose cold air more quickly when opened. If you cram items in without leaving room for circulation, however, their cooling systems will have to work harder.

This tip also applies to the cooking process. When you sear a small portion in a large pan, you’re heating empty surface area. Try to scale your cookware to fit your recipes. On an electric range, match the sizes of your burners and pans to ensure even and efficient heating. A 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner can waste more than 40 percent of the expended energy. Consider alternatives to full oven use if you only need it to prepare a single dish – toaster ovens, slow cookers and microwaves require less energy and can work well for many types of food.

Make best use of your oven

Dinners often call for the full oven. In those cases, familiarity with its features can save you money. If convection heating is available, use it, as circulating hot air is more efficient than radiating heat. Check your dishes with the oven window and light when possible instead of opening the door, which can cause temperatures to drop as much as 25 degrees.

An oven thermometer is a great tool to improve both your cooking and your energy savings. Many ovens operate at temperatures other than their settings, and this knowledge will help you adjust cooking times to match. Accurate timing will let you turn off the oven several minutes before the food is done, so the remaining heat can finish the job.

Enjoy leftovers

Preparing enough food for future meals is one of the best ways to improve kitchen efficiency. Just make sure to cover the leftovers and let them cool before you put them in the refrigerator.

More ways to save energy and money around the home

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cooking with We Energies: Holiday meals made easier throughout the decades

Making a holiday meal was much more time intensive at the turn of the 20th century. Many ovens were wood- or coal-burning units without knobs to adjust the heat. Refrigeration was handled by an icebox. There were no microwaves. In fact, approximately nine out of 10 American homes didn’t yet have electricity.

But as more homes became wired, the early predecessor of We Energies – The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. – provided assistance with live electric cooking demonstrations at the Public Service Building in downtown Milwaukee. There, attendees could browse the latest in appliances at the company’s retail store while learning new and easier ways to prepare family favorites. It didn’t matter that the first electric “stoves” were nothing more than six-inch hot plates … they, along with electric toasters and percolators, gave families the flexibility – and novelty – of cooking at their dining room tables.

Mary Modern: In the 1950s, Mary Modern used the airwaves
to help local television viewers in “making home life better 
With the advent of television a few decades later, holiday hosts and hostesses had only to turn the dial to catch a live demonstration from Mary Modern, sponsored by We Energies predecessor Wisconsin Electric on local airwaves. For five minutes each weekday in the mid-1950s, “Electrical Living – with Mary Modern” aired, sharing cooking and entertainment tips “for making home life better electrically.”

“Lecture-demonstrations in cookery” were offered throughout many of those same early- and mid-1900s decades by the Home Services Department of Milwaukee Gas Light Co. (which later became a subsidiary of We Energies as the Wisconsin Gas Co.). In addition to gas cooking and canning demonstrations held each week, on-staff home economists helped plan “attractive party menus” while operators answered hotline calls on all things related to cooking and preserving food. Together, they provided ready resources long before Martha Stewart, Google and Food Network were available to help – and some of their advice holds true today:
  • Determine your menu ahead of time. A simple menu, well prepared and attractively served, is key.
  •  Select familiar recipes. Don’t experiment when you entertain.
  • Above all else (as the company’s “Book of Etiquette and Table Setting” declared), “The secret of success is in careful planning – the trick is in the organization and timing!”
Interested in recipes from decades past? Check out the We Energies Cookie Book archive, with nearly all previous editions of the book dating back to 1932.