If you grew up in Osceola County, you probably remember going to the County Fair for free on Rodeo Day, but you may not have known that the Kissimmee Utility Authority covered the cost of your ticket (and all of your friends’ tickets, for that matter). Without drawing much attention, KUA has picked up the tab for all Osceola County students to attend the county fair free of charge on Rodeo Day for nearly a decade.
KUA’s community service programs are sneaky like that, and if you’ve attended a free community event in Kissimmee, you may have benefitted from them without even realizing it. KUA has won statewide Community Service Awards from the Florida Municipal Electrical Association for 13 years in a row, and has been nationally recognized twice for its service to the community.
KUA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications Chris Gent has been with KUA for more than 20 years, and when he started in 1993 as a Communications Specialist, he wondered what more the authority could do to give back to the community. KUA was privy to the city’s needs and offering community service programs, but Gent saw an opportunity to better define and address key social issues within the community, so he began to develop KUA’s Community Sponsorship Program. In 1995, KUA’s Board of Directors approved Gent’s program design, which seeks to address community needs in six key areas: education, community and civic, arts and humanities, environment, safety, and economic development.
“Partnering with the community goes to the core of who we are,” Gent said, following up with this contender for understatement of the year: “We’re involved in a lot.” In 2014 alone, KUA supported 51 community organizations and activities, impacting a combined 273,863 members of the community.
Community organizations that benefit from KUA’s Community Sponsorship Program include Community Vision, the Osceola Education Foundation, Meals on Wheels, Boys and Girls Clubs, KVLS and 4-H, Heavenly Hooves, the YMCA, Osceola Arts, the Osceola County Historical Society, the Center for the Council on Aging, and local schools and civic groups. From sponsoring scholarship programs, to feeding approximately 40,000 community members each year by loaning out KUA’s grill, to teaching good electrical safety and conservation habits through KUA’s annual calendar art contest, the Community Sponsorship Program does what it set out to do – provides support to a community with diverse needs.
KUA also works to see basic needs met, and offers special payment arrangements to nearly 6,500 of its customers each month so that they will have electricity in their homes. The authority has partnered with the Health Department in the past to provide Osceola County children with the shots they need to attend public school, and even funded swimming lessons for students. Always looking for new ways to fill needs in the community and noting that thousands of Kissimmee residents work multiple jobs and may not have time to register to vote, KUA partners with the Supervisor of Elections to set up voter registration booths in its main office’s lobby so Kissimmee’s strapped-for-time electorate can register to vote on their way to pay their electricity bills.
According to Gent, the Community Sponsorship Program is also intended to “instill pride in the community.” One way Gent hopes to accomplish this is by not only helping to provide for the community’s needs, but its wants. “Osceola County enjoys great diversity in its people and culture, so we’re constantly looking for ways to reach out to the community through fun, affordable events and activities that help strengthen our community,” Gent said.
With seven children of his own, Gent understands that family fun can be expensive. Fortunately, he says, “Our community has a great tradition of free festivals.” You’ll find KUA participating at many, if not all, of these free festivals, whether they’re there serving up free snow cones or hot dogs or even hosting the events.
One free community event KUA offers is the Movie in the Park series. The city started the event, but wanted to boost community participation and asked KUA if they would take on hosting the movie night in April 2014, estimating that KUA could expect about 500 people to attend. The date for KUA’s first Movie in the Park event was selected, and it happened to fall three days after Disney’s Frozen was released on DVD. Taking the movie’s popularity into consideration, KUA planned for 1,000 attendees… and got 2,500.
Gent says the Movie in the Park series isn’t only an opportunity for community outreach, but also a great place to educate the community by coupling movie trivia with tips on electricity conservation and electrical safety before movie screenings. Each movie night has an educational focus, and March’s movie night’s focus was Osceola County History! The Movie in the Park series runs from October-March.