‘We Owe it to the Community’: Hundreds of IBEW
Members Volunteer for St. Louis Day of Service

September 17, 2016

Standing before eight buses packed with volunteers, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson told members gathered for the IBEW’s Day of Service he was humbled to be a part of an organization committed to giving back to the community.

Members replace lightbulbs in the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Holy Cross church in the Baden neighborhood.

“Here with all of you, it makes me so proud to be IBEW,” he said to the more than 400 volunteers on the morning of Sept. 15. “We’re only here for a short time, but the people of St. Louis are going to remember the work we did here today for a long time to come.”

The service event kicked off several days of activities in and around St. Louis in advance of the IBEW’s 39th International Convention, which runs from Monday, Sept. 19 through Friday, the 23rd. For the first time at a convention, volunteers—mostly delegates—from dozens of local unions got up before dawn to pitch in at 26 different sites around the city, accounting for more than 1,600 hours of service in a single morning.

“This is something we’ve been doing at Electrical Workers’ Minority Caucus conferences since 2008,” said International Representative Adrian Sauceda, who organized the day’s service activities. “Giving back like this as a Brotherhood—it’s an important part of how we present ourselves to the community, and it’s a great way for all of us to remember how much we have because of this union.”

While waiting to get on his bus, Los Angeles, Local 11 member Gary Parker said he was excited to get to work, even though he didn’t know what project he would be working on.

“The great thing is I am not seeing this city with the eyes of a tourist, but as a union activist. This is about helping out and spreading the word at the same time,” Parker said.

International President Stephenson with some IBEW members who participated in the first-ever Day of Service at an International Convention.

About 20 volunteers from at least six locals were brought to a halfway house in the Dutchtown neighborhood to replace a collapsed wooden fence and build picnic tables for the newly enclosed backyard.

While there, members noticed that the house’s electrical service was damaged, making power delivery to the house unpredictable and putting residents at risk. “This is bad. People have been electrocuted this way. People could get hurt,” said Salem, Ore., Local 280 Business Manager Drew Lindsey, one of the volunteers.

Sauceda said he’d request that IBEW volunteers from one of the St. Louis locals return to make the repair.

Nearby, a half dozen volunteers were repainting the inside of low-income housing units for women.

“It’s great to see the international picking up the torch and running with this,” said Kevin Mack, an inside wireman member of Detroit Local 58, who has been doing EWMC days of service since 2013. “This union gives so much to us, and we owe it to the communities we work in to do everything we can to give others the same opportunities.”

One of the day’s largest projects was at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Church in the Baden neighborhood in North St. Louis. Holy Cross, at one time, was home to thousands of families but now there are less than 100 in the parish, said Pastor Vincent Nyman. The elementary school --attended by St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White when he was a boy-- was closed more than two decades ago.

Members repair the steeple spotlight at Holy Cross church.

Four years ago, Riverview West Florissant Development Corporation,a neighborhood nonprofit, approached the church about using the space for afterschool programs, said Executive Director Antoinette Cousins.

“It’s a great facility that wasn’t being used, and now 40 kids a day learn programming, cooking gardening, boxing and basketball, but this is a high crime neighborhood, and it is too dark for many kids --or their parents-- to feel safe coming here at night,” Cousins said.

Lighting was out of date. The wiring for the steeple flood lamp wasn’t up to code. The gym was lit with halogen lamps that overheated the room, and with no receptacles on three sides, fans couldn’t plugged in to cool things off in the summer. Classrooms were built far before computers and needed to be updated.

St. Louis Local 1 provided more than $7,000 in LED light fixtures, and St. Louis Local 1439 provided thousands more worth of bulbs. Ameren, the utility that employs Local 1439’s members, donated the use of two bucket trucks, and four Local 1 contractors sent crews.

The outside lighting in front of the rectory was replaced by Alan Shipman from Tulsa, Okla., Local 584, Kevin Havlicek from Local 1, Kennitha Wade from Portland, Ore., Local 48 and Mitch Klein, father and son Larry and Brian Caldwell from Los Angeles Local 11.  

“I have been telling people in the neighborhood we are going to light things up around here,” said Father Nyman.

Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, who grew up in the neighborhood and attends Holy Cross, estimated that IBEW volunteers had put $100,000 worth of work into the church and community center in a single morning.

“We thank you, the children this center serves thank you. This work would not have gotten done without the IBEW today,” she said. “A lot of the kids in this community have family issues at home, and this church and the after school and summer programs it hosts are the main source of structure in their lives. We’re a second family to them, and with the new lighting, it’s a safer environment for them and for their parents and volunteers.”