What a year we’ve had! It began like any other year with plans for system improvements, participation in school and community activities and business as usual. However, with onset of COVID-19 and the state and nationwide shelter at home orders that followed, we very quickly had to transition into new ways of serving our members while keeping them and our employees safe.
New restrictions and precautions led to the closing of our lobbies to walk-in customers, having as many of our employees as possible work from home and staggering work schedules to reduce the number of employees in our office and interactions between our employees and our members.
These adaptions meant we had to get creative and use all of our resources to meet our members’ needs. We promoted the use of no-contact methods of doing business such as Autopay direct deposit and payment through our website and mobile app and making payments by phone as well as low-contact options such as using our drive-thru windows and night deposit boxes.
Knowing that many of our members were out of work due to the shutdown and that many families would have trouble paying their bills, SVEC also suspended disconnection of power due to non-payment during that time. We also took extra steps to let our members know that if they were still having problems paying their bills after the shutdown, they could contact the local SVEC office to make payment arrangements to fit their budgets and avoid disconnection after the suspension was lifted.
Our traditional springtime school programs were canceled, and for the first time since 1969, SVEC did not send students on the Washington Youth Tour because the program was canceled by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. However, we again adapted. SVEC still featured the seven students who would have represented our cooperative on the Youth Tour in our August section of The Tennessee Magazine, and each of them will receive a $1,000 scholarship upon high school graduation.
But the most radical change was that for the first time in our 81-year history, the SVEC annual meeting was not held “live and in person.” Our board felt that it was too great a threat to the health of our members who normally attend the annual meeting and the employees who work during the meeting.
As an essential industry, an outbreak of COVID-19 among our employees could mean prolonged outages in the event of storm damage. Such an outage could result in a loss of income to businesses and industry and present a threat to the health and safety of our members during the extreme temperatures of summer. We could not take that chance.
SVEC members were able to hear from the board of directors and management on the “state of the co-op” on our website and Facebook page from the comfort of their homes, making the information more accessable to our membership on a more flexible schedule. The SVEC annual report is included here on pages 20-25.
We thank you for working with us as we adapt to the unusual circumstances of this uncommon year. And we hope to see you in August of 2021 at SVEC’s 82nd annual meeting. Stay safe out there until then.
-Mike Partin, SVEC president/CEO