Thursday, December 29, 2016

From employees’ heroic acts to canine safety ambassadors, 2016 a banner year

It’s been a busy year at We Energies. As we get ready to ring in 2017, we thought we’d take a look back at 2016. 

Our employees never hesitated to go above and beyond in the field. One of our troubleshooters saved a choking woman by performing CPR. Another found a loaded gun on the street and handed it over to Milwaukee Police. And there was a cute kitten who needed rescuing from atop a utility junction box in Kenosha.

Man’s best friend helped spread our safety messages on several occasions. Abby the “super dog” alerted her family about a carbon monoxide leak. Job, a Lhasa mix, warned his owners about a natural gas leak. And the dynamic duo of Darby and Boca won our Safe Digging contest to help promote calling 811 before digging.

Customers got good news about their bills. In May, we reported that residential customer bills were the lowest in more than a decade.

This fall, we were honored to accept two national awards for outstanding reliability. Hearing our customers echo that sentiment made us even prouder.

And we closed out the year with a record-setting Cookie Book distribution at Miller Park where we handed out more than 26,000 books!

Watch this video for more 2016 highlights: 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Customer calls employee’s good deed “a Christmas miracle”

Gas seasonal inspector Jason Feucht was driving to a job in Oconto County last week when he saw a disabled man shoveling snow. The man had climbed out of his motorized wheelchair and was trying to shovel deep snow at the end of his driveway.

Tom Pienta
Feucht pulled over and asked if the man needed help. Tom Pienta said, yes, he could use a helping hand. 

“It was wonderful,” Pienta later said. “A Christmas miracle.”

Pienta was trying to shovel a path for his scooter to get to his mailbox. Feucht didn’t just shovel a path. He cleared the entire end of the driveway and retrieved Pienta’s mail, too.

“I just did something any one of us would do,” said Feucht.

Pienta was so pleased, he posted a thank-you note on his Facebook page. Pienta’s children went a step further, emailing the company to thank Feucht.

Gas seasonal inspector Jason Feucht
“It’s so nice and refreshing that someone takes the time to offer a helping hand,” said Pienta’s daughter, Rachelle, who lives in Ohio and learned about the incident afterward. “It makes me happy to know someone was there to help.”

During his short visit, Feucht learned that Pienta is a veteran. Feucht says he made sure to thank Pienta for his service to our country.

“The inspiration is really Pienta, to see him out there trying to shovel,” said Feucht. “I was just glad to be in the right place at the right time to help.”

Monday, December 12, 2016

Boy Scout Merit Badge Clinic encourages exploration

A Boy Scout works with a volunteer
in the Public Service Building 
auditorium at We Energies.
Since 1954, We Energies has hosted the annual Merit Badge Clinic for Boy Scouts. This year’s event took place on Saturday, Dec. 10, in the We Energies Public Service Building Auditorium. The clinic brought together approximately 20 We Energies volunteers to help 50 Boy Scouts ages 12-17 earn electricity merit badges.

Earning a merit badge involves taking a written test on electrical safety and terms, and demonstrating knowledge of practical skills. The scouts study information on electricity and conduct safety audits of their homes before the clinic. They also wire circuits with lights or buzzers or build electric motors as part of independent projects. The clinic brings in energy experts to coach them the rest of the way.

“The scouts walk out qualified for their merit badge by noon,” said Ted Sniegowski, an operations manager at Port Washington Generating Station. Sniegowski has chaired the event for the past ten years. “The clinic helps them achieve skills that aren’t taught in schools anymore, and it opens their eyes to a career in energy.”

Certainly technology has changed since the clinic began in 1954, but its basis remains the same. Some families have had three generations of scouts attend the clinic. Retired employees return to volunteer and keep the tradition going. A few volunteers have even helped at the clinic for more than 40 consecutive years.

Junior Girl Scouts from Troop 8295 at Merit Badge Clinic.
This year marks the beginning of what might become a new tradition: involving Girl Scouts. Sniegowski was approached by Jennifer Rios, sourcing support specialist – finance and a Girl Scout leader, who asked if she might bring a group of interested Girl Scouts to observe. “We jumped at the opportunity and said absolutely,” Sniegowski said.

The Junior Girl Scouts of Troop 8295 are fourth-graders on their “Get Moving” Journey, a project about energy and how it is used, produced and conserved. The Girl Scouts conduct energy audits of their homes and buildings in their communities and interview power-use experts. “The journey culminates with a project to help educate others in our school on the importance of energy and conservation,” Rios said.

Sniegowski is pro-scouting for both boys and girls. He became involved in scouting as an adult through this clinic at We Energies about ten years ago. “Scouting overall encourages exploration in things kids wouldn’t see every day,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to ask questions and to do things they wouldn’t even think of if it weren’t for scouting.”

Boy Scouts qualified for their electricity merit badges.
Sniegowski hopes to get the Girl Scouts more involved in the years to come, and keep the tradition of the Merit Badge Clinic alive for further generations.

Keep natural gas meters, vents clear of snow, ice

Remember to safely remove snow and ice from your furnace vents and natural gas meters. Use caution when shoveling, snow blowing or plowing near natural gas meters to prevent damage and potential gas leaks.

To avoid meter problems:

- Keep meters clear of snow and ice; make sure snow isn't covering meter.

- Always shovel away from meter.

- Take care when using snow thrower or plow near meter. 

- Use a broom to clear snow and ice from equipment.

- Avoid kicking or hitting meter to break away built-up snow or ice.

- Remove icicles that may drip water onto meter.

Keeping furnace intake and exhaust vents clear of snow and ice is an important safety precaution to prevent build up of carbon monoxide inside homes and buildings. A blocked vent also can affect the performance of the furnace, which may not run properly or at all when the intake or exhaust vent is blocked.

As for natural gas meters, you may not think about that often, but we ask that you keep your meter clear of snow and ice for safety.

Accumulated snow and ice place stress on meter piping, which can damage equipment and cause a gas leak. Keeping the meter clear also allows our employees to properly service the meter in case of emergency and keeps it visible to snowplows when those meters are in close proximity to alleys or other areas subject to plowing.

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.