Sharing Success Provides Peace-of-Mind in Wake of Unexpected Disasters
Since its inception in 2012, CoBank’s Sharing Success program has provided more than $76 million in combined contributions to our rural communities.
CoBank’s signature Sharing Success program doubles the impact of our customer-owners by matching their charitable contributions. In 2022, nearly 690 CoBank customers contributed more than $5.1 million — which CoBank matched, for a total impact of $10.2 million. One of those customers is Agri-Valley Communications, Inc., a family-owned business headquartered in Pigeon, Michigan, a rural community in a region of Michigan’s lower peninsula known as The Thumb.
AVCI provides telephone, cellular voice and data service, as well as internet connectivity to approximately 40,000 customers and has been a CoBank customer for more than 20 years. AVCI’s CEO Ed Eichler has a longstanding commitment to the communities served by the communications company and works closely with his leadership team to direct AVCI’s charitable giving.
“AVCI cares about our customers and the communities they live in,” said Ray Leppien, AVCI’s chief financial officer. “We are all one family here in the Thumb of Michigan and we look after each other. We’ve used CoBank’s Sharing Success program many times to double our impact, but our 2022 contribution was a bit different. The Friends of Grindstone, a civic organization that takes on community improvement projects in historic Grindstone City, approached us seeking help with a project that would not only improve the community, but could also save lives.”
Three different tornadoes have impacted the Grindstone City area in the past two years, including an EF-2 category event that hit in 2021 with winds of up to 120 mph. It left a path of destruction seven miles long, destroying six houses and damaging a number of other structures. Luckily, there were no fatalities.
Ray Boswell, a member of Friends of Grindstone, remembers the experience vividly.
“I was at a picnic at Grindstone Harbor with a couple hundred people. The tornado came out of nowhere and we had no warning at all. In a matter of minutes, people were running everywhere. It was chaos. The tornado went down the lakeshore right in front of us, but we were lucky. If the path had been just a bit different, a lot of people could have lost their lives.”
When a disaster strikes, every minute counts and having a warning system will give the residents of Grindstone City some much-needed peace of mind.
Following that experience, a local fire department updated its emergency warning, but its location was still too distant to benefit the Grindstone City community.
“I thought maybe we could take their old siren and install it in Grindstone,” said Boswell. “AVCI was already installing a new cell tower in our community and I asked them if we could put a siren on that tower. They said yes, but when we looked into it, the old equipment simply wasn’t usable and a new system would cost us $26,000. At that point, I thought we were done. I called AVCI to tell them thank you, but we wouldn’t be able to move forward with the project. AVCI could easily have said ‘sorry about your luck’ and gone about their day. Instead, they went to work to see how they could help. A couple of weeks later, they called us back and offered to pay for the whole thing!”
“We knew this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” said Edwin Eichler, AVCI’s CEO. “When a disaster strikes, every minute counts and having a warning system will give the residents of Grindstone City some much needed peace of mind. AVCI is proud to help make this a reality for the community and we’re grateful to CoBank for matching our contribution through Sharing Success.”
Although it took some time to procure the equipment, the project is now expected to be completed within the next few months.
Since its inception in 2012, CoBank’s Sharing Success program has provided more than $76 million in combined contributions to our rural communities. The 2023 program opens on April 1 and runs through September 30.