Some Gulf Power employees are passing on their stewardship and community service ethos to their children, building future conservationists, philanthropists and humanitarians by taking them along to Gulf Power service projects.
Along the way, employees and their children provide thousands of volunteer hours annually to nonprofits and causes across Northwest Florida. In 2017, employees and their families volunteered 10,674 hours with 63 percent of those in support of poverty and education initiatives and about 1,000 hours in environmental projects.
“Gulf Power employees value giving back to the communities we serve and are always willing to pitch in to build a house, support a walk, feed the hungry and raise money in support of an effort that makes our communities stronger,” said Wes Hudgens, Gulf Power’s Community Development representative. “So much so, that often many employees take these opportunities to bring along their loved ones to help provide extra support and get the whole family engaged in making a difference.”
Giving back is a big part of the lives of Susan Southard, Administrative assistant at the Pine Forest Office, and Darin Southard, Supply Chain Staff analyst at the Corporate Office. Their 13-year-old daughter Alexa is part of what they call Team Southard when they gear up to tackle a community event.
“I’m crazy about being involved in the community, and I want Alexa to know the contacts and relationships you build through participating in charitable events will pay off down the road — for her and for the community,” Darin said. “Everything we do, we do together.”
Alexa has joined her family at Gulf Coast Kid’s House Chocolate Fest in Pensacola, and Feeding the Gulf Coast fundraiser in Santa Rosa County, and she has helped pick up litter for Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce’s Adopt a Highway program.
Kimberly Williams, Customer Care analyst, said her 12-year-old-grandson, Malachi, is developing leadership skills through volunteering. He helped at the Bike Pensacola Slow Ride Gulf Power sponsored last year and at Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.
When the Ransom Middle School honor student is not helping his grandmother, he’s active in the First West Florida Baptist District Association’s Young People’s Department in Pensacola, honing those leadership skills.
“Although I have been through a lot in my life; I am glad to be involved and to have my ‘meme’ support me,” said Malachi.
Making a difference in protecting the natural resources of Northwest Florida is a family tradition that’s been passed on to Jeff Cole, Gulf Power’s Environmental Stewardship coordinator. And he’s passing it on to his sons James, 16, and Timothy, 15. For years, James has been at his dad’s side during the volunteer workdays Cole organizes for the utility. Timothy recently got involved.
“My dad and mom both enjoy the outdoors and taught me and my brothers and sisters to not just enjoy it but take care of the areas we used, and to leave it a little better than we found it,” said Cole, a Santa Rosa County native who works in the Panama City Office. “From camping at the beach to canoeing on Cold Water Creek, being part of the outdoors has always been part of my life. Now, I try to provide the same thing to my four kids, so they can experience the unique natural environment of Northwest Florida.”
That’s a similar reason Kevin Dutton, Substation specialist Sr., in Panama City, brings his son, Colby, 15, along to Gulf Power environmental stewardship volunteer workdays. “We spend a lot of time in the woods and on the waters of Northwest Florida, and having my son involved in conservation projects gives him a better understanding of his surroundings, as well as learning how to preserve our natural resources and environment,” he said.
Colby, who also joins his dad for Heart Walks, said he’s learned a lot, and he’s able to put to work his love for engineering and building things, such as helping to build oyster reefs in North Bay located near Panama City. “By participating, I’ve learned that if we don’t take care of our natural resources they may not be there for us to enjoy in the years to come,” he said.
Laurie Stearmer, Supply Chain Procurement clerk, Sr., at the Corporate Office, said involving her sons, Alex, 28, and Anthony, 23, in community stewardship since they were in middle school has shaped their treatment of others.
“My boys have joined me in events including cleanups, walks, fundraising bowling and golf tournaments, and many other events,” she said. “I started them out doing things like that because I wanted them to see the impact someone can have on a community. I wanted them to be someone who does instead of someone who talks about what needs doing.”
Helping others has become second nature for her son, she said. Alex didn’t hesitate to stop on the side of the road once to help a woman get her lawnmower unstuck from a ditch. Both of the young men won’t allow anyone with them to litter and they often pick up trash in parking lots they pass by.
Growing up in the shadow of Bernard Johnson, District General Manager in Fort Walton Beach who leads his team on many community service projects, led Blake Johnson, a recent graduate of Niceville High School, to follow a path of serving others.
“He has the heart and drive to help others,” said Johnson. “I’m on the board of directors of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the Fort Walton Beach area, and Blake is a Huddle Group leader. He also volunteers for Special Olympics. And he helps feed the homeless.”
When it comes to getting the next generation involved, Heather Cresap, Customer Care analyst in Pensacola, believes they are never too young. She has already introduced her 5-year-old-son, Tyler, to community service so he grows up with a “giving heart … to spread joy and love in the world,” she said.
“I am one of the leaders of a young adult ministry called Eightfive0, and I bring my son with me to outreaches conducted by the ministry so he can learn how to spread love and treat everyone the same no matter what their race, ethnicity, social background and financial status,” said Cresap, who herself volunteers for United Way and Junior Achievement, along with church events. “My ultimate goal is to raise him to be a vessel for spreading the love of Jesus and one day go on mission trips together when he is older.”