CELEBRATE COMMUNITY: Taking philanthropy to new heights

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JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — When it comes to raising awareness for people living without electricity, CHELCO CEO Steve Rhodes took the task to new heights.

In 2016, Rhodes, alongside his wife Tami and daughter Samantha, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the millions of people living without power in the African continent and to raise funds for National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). Last month, he was awarded the 2018 International Award for his work with NRECA.

The International Award recognizes exceptional dedication to the development of international communities through electrification, cooperative development and global commitment, according to a press release from CHELCO.

Rhodes has been a hiker and climber all of his life, he said. Mount Kilimanjaro was a “bucket list” destination. At 19,341-feet, it is the highest mountain in Africa.

After planning his trip, he quickly realized the adventure could benefit the Electrify Africa program through NRECA. He was able to raise $42,000, which will help bring electric service to people in third world countries around the globe.

“Climbing the highest point in Africa by myself would have been special but doing with my family was incredible,” he said via email. “Unfortunately, my son was unable to join the family adventure due to another commitment, but the rest of us took on the challenge and look back at it as an epic adventure. We have come to refer to it as ‘7 Days to Sunrise’ because it was a seven day climb to the summit and we arrived to see the sunrise over an incredible African landscape far below.”

Rhodes said it was gratifying to be recognized by peers for his work with NRECA. But the good work that will come from the money raised is what really makes him proud.

“Electric co-ops like CHELCO were formed back in the 1930s and 40s to bring electricity to rural areas of the U.S,” said Rhodes. “NRECA’s international program is doing the same thing for people around the world today. A relatively simple act on our part can change lives in a dramatic way. Think about where you would be with electricity. How much would the quality of your life change? If we don’t help these people, who will?”

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