United employees donate their time
and talents to make a difference in
members’ communities and lives.
On a blistering, hot June morning, saws cut wood, drills whirred and shovels broke up rock.
The cacophony broke the silence of the usually quiet Godley neighborhood where 77-year-old Ray Norsup resides. The sounds came from the tools of seven United employees working tirelessly on a 100-degree day to replace a deteriorating wheelchair ramp in Norsup’s backyard.
Originally built for his wife, who died of cancer in August of 2012, Norsup’s progressing arthritis has made replacing the ramp a necessity for safely entering his home. After her passing, he found himself continuing to use the ramp because he said climbing porch stairs were more difficult. However, the original ramp was in no condition to be safely used.
“The older you get, the feebler you get,” he said. “It means a great deal that they are replacing something that needs to be fixed. I’ve lived here since 2000, and the existing ramp that they took out was one that my friend had built for my wife when she was dying of cancer. It’s my own electricity company, can you believe that? I’m giving in, and they’re giving back, it’s a beautiful thing.”
United employees stepped up to the plate in the spirit of helping the community it serves by partnering with locally based Christmas in Action to meet Norsup’s need. “United employees go beyond what they do in the office and serve our members wherever they may need it,” said United CEO Cameron Smallwood.
“United employees are constantly living out their mission to give back to the communities they serve,” Smallwood said. “They’re associated with more than 30 different organizations in our service territory, including American Red Cross, Meals on Wheels and the Children’s Advocacy Center. Employees donate their skills, talents and time to touch lives and make a difference in our community.”
Ramping Up Assistance
Replacing the ramp had weighed on the minds of Rochelle and Patrick Gate, Norsup’s daughter and son-in-law.
The couple moved in with Norsup in February of 2021 to help take care of him, and Rochelle said she was alarmed by the state of the ramp he had been using.
“I was always nervous that he would fall down” she said. “Some of it was on the ground, and it bowed to the left. There were boards that weren’t attached well, and it was just disintegrating.”
Having a lack of carpentry experience and seeing a financial strain to come, Rochelle said she reached out to local non-profit Christmas in Action, a Cleburne-based organization that depends on volunteers to meet the needs of families who are elderly or do not have the financial means to do the work needed to make their home safe.
“I told Mrs. Gate to apply after she reached out telling me their story,” said Teresa Bednar, project coordinator and Christmas in Action board member of 22 years. “Then, United reached out asking if we needed volunteers in their service territory and I saw a perfect match. I told United about this project, and they came out for the job.”
On June 10, the seven United employees began their laborious work, spending all day constructing a new ramp.“We grow rocks out here,” Patrick said, joking.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the United volunteers to understand exactly what he meant. After about six inches of digging, the volunteer crew hit solid rock. Undaunted, United volunteers used drills, shovels and strong determination to dig deep enough to stabilize the ramp.
Experienced in home renovations, the co-op employees were able to combine their skills and bring this family exactly what it needed. Many of the United volunteers had hours of experience in the construction business, said Mark Dixon, United’s safety and loss control director.
“It’s very rewarding to give back when you have been so blessed,” Dixon said. “Working for United I’ve always had a good job and never wanted for much, so I want to give to those who aren’t as fortunate. It’s a good feeling knowing that I’m able to help someone out in my own community.”
As the sun beat down, Brody Weems, the co-op’s safety and loss control coordinator, stopped to wipe the sweat from his face. He loves volunteering to help people, and it’s somewhat of a family tradition, he said. As a 10-year-old, he started volunteering for Christmas in July to restore homes with his dad and has continued giving back ever since.
“Personally, I feel called to serve others,” he said. “Giving back to the community and being able to help out is what being a co-op is all about.”
Hoisting Up Community Service
Participating in Christmas in Action wasn’t the only service United employees performed for their community. Three days later, United volunteers worked with the Keene Chamber of Commerce to get the town ready for Flag Day.
At 7:30 a.m. the day before, five United volunteers made a stop on their way to work to help line Old Betsy Road in Keene with American flags.
“Usually, students from the nearby university and high school help put the flags out,” said Jeff Pannell, United’s business development manager. “But with school being out for summer they were having trouble finding volunteers. I had mentioned before that if they ever needed help, they could reach out to us, so they did.”
Pannell recruited United employees Joe LoPalo, Brad Mead, Reid Carroll and Brady Cashion to join him. “I knew the guys would be up for the job when I asked because they are people who regularly volunteer on their own time” he said.
Running down the side of the road in their khakis and collared shirts to keep up with the truck carrying the flags, the five United employees successfully emptied the trailer and lined the street with flags, fulfilling a 25-year-old town tradition in honor of Flag Day.
“That’s the guy,” said Paul Gnadt, pointing at Brady Rusk, the business owner and longtime Keene resident who started the flag tradition. In 1995 Rusk began placing U.S. flags along Old Betsy Road on holidays and special occasions. Gnadt said Rusk begand with 20 flags that he purchased with his own money. That number has since swelled to 366, and the tradition is now operated by the Keene Chamber of Commerce. Of the 366 flags, more than 220 of them were purchased by Keene residents in honor or memory of a loved one.
United’s GIS internet technician Brady Cashion said he was excited to help on the project.
“I’ve always thought it was so cool to see the flags displayed in Keene but never knew what it took to be the ones to do it,” he said. “It was really rewarding to drive through it afterwards knowing we were able to help.”