Rural Missouri - August 2017 - 4
| C O O P E R AT I O N
photos courtesy Farmers' Electric (left) and Kory & Stacy Bunten (right)
Above: Kansas City Royals pitcher Dennis Leonard shares a laugh with auctioneer Col. Mike Miller and Farmers' Electric's Dan Bryan and Steve Shoot
during one of the early auctions that benefited the co-op's Area Youth Benefit Fund. Many celebrities like Leonard have taken part in the benefit over its
25 years, assuring its success. Above right: Axten Bunten from Tina is one of many kids from the area the fund has helped.
Farmers' Electric Area Youth Benefit Fund helps sick kids for 25 years
an Bryan, retired manager of Farmers' Electric Cooperative, recalls the
lofty goal set for the cooperative's Area Youth Benefit Fund. "Our goal
was to someday have $20,000 donated," he recalls. "I think we met
that goal since they are approaching $750,000 in donations."
It's been 25 years since the Chillicothe-based cooperative set up the fund to
help families struggling to pay medical bills for their sick or injured children.
It started when the cooperative asked its members what - besides providing
electricity - could be done to improve the quality of life for its service area.
"The way it started, we surveyed our membership on the value-added projects the cooperative could help with," says current Farmers' Manager Rod Cotton. "What came back was 'help us with health insurance.' We couldn't do that,
but we decided to set up this fund to help kids."
Members were asked to join Operation Round Up, a national program that
lets members round up their electric bills to the next highest dollar amount,
with the money earmarked for community improvement projects.
Each cooperative that takes part in Operation Round Up uses the funds for
different purposes. In the case of Farmers' Electric, all of the money collected
goes to the Area Youth Benefit Fund. In a typical year, this provides around
$5,000. The rest of the money comes from a dinner auction and a golf tournament, which usually add another $40,000 to the fund.
In its 25 years of existence, the fund has helped 656 families, primarily in
Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Clinton, Daviess, DeKalb, Linn, Livingston and Ray
counties. "They don't have to be a member," Rod says. "We provide assistance
to anyone in the nine counties where we serve."
One of the kids helped by the fund is Axten Bunten, the 18-month-old son
of Kody and Stacy Bunten of Tina. Axten was born with a host of problems,
including a twisted neck, a misshapen head and Level 3 autism. The fund paid
$4,000 to St. Luke's Hospital and later provided half of the money for the second special helmet used to reshape his skull.
"It was huge, huge," says Kody, who admits he shed a few tears over the
generosity. "It helped out amazingly. We just had to fill out the paperwork and
give them a copy of the bill. That's all it took." The Buntens are amazed at the
outpouring of support they have received from the generous people in their
community, a town of 100 located south of Chillicothe. "We live in the kind of
community that even if we didn't know our neighbors, they are the ones that
would give you the shirt off their backs," Kody says.
Besides the assistance from Farmers' Electric, the family, which includes
five other kids besides Axten, received help from a local church and a friend set
up a softball tournament held in July to raise money for Axten and other kids
"It takes an entire community for us to take Axten to the hospital," Kody
says. "When we leave town we can't take all the other kids with us. So we have
a neighbor that keeps two of the kids, makes sure they get to school, makes
sure they get home and makes sure they get fed, stuff like that."
It's testimonials like these that has kept the employees at Farmers' Electric
motivated to continue raising money for the fund. Members of the community
have stepped forward as well, serving on committees for the annual dinner auction and donating items that are sold during the event.
Electric co-ops around the state help support the fund by sending teams for
the golf tournament, attending the banquet and buying items from the auction.
The early success of the fund was ensured by a host of celebrity speakers,
most with a sports theme. These have included Kansas City Royals players
Dennis Leonard, Dan Quisenberry and John Wathan, along with representatives from the old Kansas City Monarchs.
"The community has supported it well," says Rod. "It's a great way for the
cooperative to step in and provide a needed community service."
This year's Area Youth Benefit Fund dinner auction and golf tournament are
set for Aug. 26 and 28. For more information, or to apply for funds, visit www.
fec-co.com/content/area-youth-benefit-fund or call 660-646-4281.
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