By Amy Strecker
Duke Energy Foundation
My first job out of college was with Teach for America. Teaching high school English in Warren County, N.C. is still my most challenging job to date, but it was unbelievably rewarding. I loved discovering the different ways my students absorbed information and applied their new-found knowledge.
As president of the Duke Energy Foundation, I have a front-row seat to a similar marvel: Seeing extraordinary organizations, visionary leaders and dedicated volunteers roll out dynamic programs that are changing minds and lives.
Since we announced Duke Energy Foundation’s new vision, I’ve seen our philanthropic work add even more value for the communities we serve. As we approach the second year of our refreshed strategy and complementary process changes, here are three lessons I’m carrying with me.
- Agility keeps our giving relevant. The communities we operate in are dynamic places with evolving needs. The vision and process of Duke Energy Foundation allows us flexibility within a framework to be proactive when we can, reactive when we need to be, but constantly attuned to the changing landscape. For example, after the pandemic decreased volunteer participation in food delivery programs for seniors, Duke Energy Foundation provided a grant supporting mobile food programs across South Carolina. We also understand our communities continue to feel financial strain due to the rising cost of basic needs like food and transportation and we are working to provide aid for customers and communities.
- Embrace the wisdom of local communities. The best solutions are often close to home. We have colleagues living, working and leading across the communities where Duke Energy operates. And it's these teammates' relationships – with nonprofits, with community leaders – that help us better understand not only the biggest challenges our communities face, but the forward-thinking opportunities that exist to rise above them. We’ve empowered our teammates closest to these communities to act thoughtfully with grant dollars or make connections to help the nonprofit in its next step. For example, Family Promise of Hendricks County, IN leads the hyperlocal work of supporting basic needs for families in crisis.
- Saying “yes!” means we sometimes have to say “no” to great work. Nonprofits are leading tremendous efforts in our communities and our Foundation team is often one of the first to hear about emerging opportunities. We aren’t able to participate in all the worthy efforts cultivating in our communities, but staying aligned to our clean energy future enables us to say yes to exciting projects like a lineworker training program at Central Piedmont Community College. The college will offer the first lineworker training program in Mecklenburg County, N.C. and help build a diverse talent pipeline for the industry. This program solves for a workforce need to bring high-quality talent in to build the infrastructure for our net-zero carbon future.
I still think about my former students every day. One of the barometers I use when considering grant opportunities, is “how would this make a lasting difference to someone in a rural community similar to my beloved Warren County?” What I do know is that the clean energy future matters for all of us, and when we lean into Duke Energy Foundation’s commitment to vibrant economies; climate resiliency; and justice, equity and inclusion, we’re setting up our communities for a brighter future.