In 1997, Flathead Electric Cooperative doubled down on its guiding business principle of “concern for community” and launched a program to improve safety in its service area. The Co-op dubbed it “Roundup for Safety” and appointed a board to get the program off the ground.  

Next, Flathead Electric Cooperative members volunteered to allow their electric bills to be rounded up to support community safety projects. For example, a bill of $55.01 or $55.99 is rounded up to $56.00. Over each year, most members end up contributing about $6 to Roundup for Safety. Twenty-seven years later, those pennies have added up in a huge way for safety! 

Today, nearly 69% of Flathead members participate in the Roundup for Safety program. Currently, their contributions total about $21,000 per month. On April 30, 2024, Flathead member lifetime contributions to Roundup for Safety exceeded 5 million dollars — $5,042,788 to be exact! 

Co-op Community Relations Manager Katie Pfennigs shares that member participation in Roundup has steadily increased over twenty-seven years. She reflects, “We even saw support and growth continue during the uncertainty of 2020, which was especially heartwarming. I thought members might choose to pause their giving, but instead, Roundup reached the $4 million mark in spring 2020, while many people were at home.” Pfennigs continued, “I never dreamed we would hit another million-dollar milestone four short years later, but we’ve had a population boom in Northwest Montana, and those new members are just as generous with the Roundup for Safety program as our multi-generation members.” 

The Flathead Valley chapter of Girls on the Run requested funding for high visibility vests to allow better visibility for their race volunteers. Photo courtesy Girls on the Run.

After members round up their bills, the Roundup for Safety Board of Directors considers project proposals from local nonprofit organizations. The Directors are independent of the Co-op and its Board of Trustees. They are often involved with the nonprofit groups from the inception of the proposed safety projects, brainstorming ideas with nonprofit leaders to determine appropriateness, adherence to the group’s bylaws, and scope.  

The Board asks how many Co-op members might be positively impacted by a project and encourages the nonprofits to partner up with other community groups for project buy-in before a formal proposal is made. Funding requests frequently exceed the amount of funding available in each month, so Directors also help nonprofit groups think about other organizations that might be able to contribute funding. 

Board President Bill Leininger shares, “It is truly a privilege to serve on the Roundup board. We get to meet leaders from many of the organizations that make the valley a wonderful place to live, hear about exciting upcoming projects, and (often) award them grants! I think Roundup is a strong example of Montana community at its finest.”  

Over the years, Roundup for Safety projects have impacted countless people in the Co-op’s service area, which also serves millions of tourists each year. AEDs, a frequent request, are found all over the greater Flathead Valley. Volunteer fire departments replace their turnout gear within a safe time frame. Schools have safer lighting, fire suppression systems, and sports equipment. Camps offer modern life jackets and climbing equipment to their campers. Police departments purchase critical equipment they lack funding for, like trauma bags, ballistic shields, and drones. Bike helmets are distributed at no cost to area youth each spring. Multiple food banks have secured backup generators to ensure the safety of their food supply for the community’s most vulnerable members.  

Montana Kayak Academy teaches residents of all ages how to be safe on the many miles of local waterways, starting with helmets for all participants. Photo courtesy Montana Kayak Academy.

Members of the Board are quite diverse in their backgrounds, ages, and skill sets.  Monthly meetings are often spirited affairs as the Board considers grant proposals during public meetings and then discusses them in executive sessions.  These volunteer Board directors are:  

  • Paul Austin (District 1: Columbia Falls to Essex) 
  • Kim Souther, Vice-President (District 2: Lower Valley) 
  • Gayle Maclaren (District 3, Whitefish) 
  • Terri Smiley (District 4: Helena Flats) 
  • Tom Hollo, Secretary-Treasurer (District 5: North Kalispell) 
  • Dave Brewer (District 6: West Valley) 
  • Elma Giavasis (District 7: South Kalispell) 
  • Bill Leininger, President (District 8: Bigfork) 
  • Steven Lefever (District 9: Libby) 
  • Kaylee Hampton (Youth Director) 

Director Elma Giavasis offers, “The Board doesn’t always agree, but we like and respect each other so much that it’s almost fun to disagree, and challenge each other’s positions about why a grant might be appropriate for the program. I’m really proud that our Board is evolving and growing – it’s not stagnant. As the concept of what keeps communities safe changes, our Board responds thoughtfully. I really credit our Youth Director, a high school junior, with helping the entire Board understand that mental health is directly tied to school safety. That wouldn’t have been the case even a few years ago.” 

Roundup for Safety, a nonprofit organization supporting other nonprofits, is dedicated to helping Flathead Electric Cooperative’s communities thrive by increasing safety throughout the service area. Its success is wholly credited to the generosity of the many members of Flathead Electric Cooperative who allow their bills to be rounded up each month in support of safer communities. Director Terri Smiley summarizes, “Altogether, Roundup reflects perhaps the very best part of our Co-op, and cooperatives everywhere – the spirit of community and cooperation amongst members.” 

If you have questions about Flathead Electric Cooperative’s Roundup for Safety program, visit Roundup for Safety – Flathead Electric Cooperative or reach out to staff liaison Courtney Stone at 

Courtney Stone

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