A Mission to Give Back

Story and Photos by Rodger Nichols

With the help of a grant from Northern Wasco County PUD, the National Neon Sign Museum
completed electrical upgrades to a former Elks Lodge built in 1910.

Northern Wasco County PUD’s mission is to “provide reliable, competitively priced energy and related services that benefit our customers in the tradition of public power.” As a ratepayer-owned utility, it doesn’t stop there. The PUD firmly believes it should give back to the community.

Since 1996, the PUD has awarded grants totaling more than $760,000 to 49 local nonprofits and government agencies. Awards have been as small as $700 and as large as $20,000. Recipients include a variety of organizations, from The Dalles Riverfront Trail to the Tygh Valley Rural Fire Protection District.

In 2019, five groups received grants.

“It was perfect,” says Janet Hamada, executive director of The Next Door Inc., which received $5,473 toward remodeling the former Mid-Columbia Council of Governments building at 11th Street and Kelly Avenue. “We didn’t get everything we asked for, but getting the grant convinced a private donor to contribute the balance to reach our goal.”

Janet says the work was done well and completed on schedule.

Today, among other things, the building houses an alternative school with 15 high school-age students, and a program that promotes prosperity in the Latino community by offering free services to entrepreneurs, including helping them develop business plans and submit loan applications. The Next Door Inc. offers more than two dozen social support programs in a seven-county area.

Home at Last Humane Society also benefitted from a 2019 grant of $9,756 for a new kennel system. The shelter has an isolation area of cinderblock construction with dividers that don’t go all the way to the floor, allowing contamination across spaces. The grant enabled the purchase of a new system with a stainless-steel frame on legs, with vinyl floor and sides, and a window on top so animals can’t transmit airborne diseases by sneezing.

Though the awards were made last summer, the new system was back-ordered for six months and expected to ship at the end of February.

“We hope this is the start of a campaign to completely remodel the aging facility,” says Executive Director Stephen Drynan.

The Anderson homestead reassembled on the grounds of the Fort Dalles Museum, used PUD grant funds to get a new heat pump.

The Fort Dalles Museum and Anderson Homestead received $14,621 for the purchase and installation of a heat pump, insulation, and electrical upgrades at the Anderson house. The house, built of square-cut notched timbers in 1895 on Pleasant Ridge, was moved to the museum grounds in the 1970s. A gas furnace installed in the 1980s was due for replacement. The new heat pump is more efficient, says Executive Director Cal McDermid.

Another grant recipient was The National Neon Sign Museum, in the former Elks Club building on Second Street. The museum received $19,450 for electrical work.

“The grant received is instrumental in the construction efforts taking place on the 6,000-square-foot education center on the lower level,” says Kristen Benko, who operates the museum with her husband, David. “The education center will offer a variety of resources and opportunities to the community and beyond.”

The center is designed with three classrooms, two changeable galleries, a coffee shop, and an activity workspace. All surround a neon glass shop that will be used for demonstrations and education.

“Students, children, and adults of all ages will be able to participate in weekend workshops, extensions to field trip STEM learning, and innovative retreat-style team-building activities,” Kristin says. “The education center will support the museum’s primary interest of furthering a unique perspective of history through the lens of signage, advertising, and design over the decades.”

The final award of $700 went to the Wasco County 4-H Association. The grant will help buy fixtures, pumps, and lighting to expand a hydroponics/aquaponics gardening program that began in 2018.

Grants in 2020

Northern Wasco County PUD has allocated $50,000 to award to successful applicants in 2020. Groups interested in applying for the 2020 awards can find application forms and instructions on the PUD website, www.nwascopud.org. Click the “Programs” tab to the right at the top of the page and “Economic Development” on the drop-down menu. There is a choice between forms that can be printed or filled out online.

To be eligible, organizations must be nonprofits or governmental agencies. The grants must be for infrastructure or property within the PUD service territory, with an expected life of at least five years. Grants for infrastructure must be submitted by the property owner. No grants will be awarded for contracted services such as engineering services and consultant studies, or for consumables. Grants must be for brick-and-mortar projects and be for no more than $20,000.

Each organization is limited to two grants in a five-year period. Private for-profit ventures are ineligible, and state and federal laws prohibit PUD (public) funds from being awarded to entities with religious affiliations.

Applicants should submit one written and one electronic copy of the completed application and any supplemental materials to the PUD office, 2345 River Road, The Dalles, no later than 5 P.M. on April 17, 2020. The PUD Board of Directors will consider requests at its regular business meeting on May 5, 2020.

In the group’s application, STEM Program Coordinator Lu Seapy wrote, “Currently, nearly 20 percent of Wasco County residents work in the agricultural sector, but these are in lower-paying positions. It is hoped with the new and emerging technology behind aquaponics, our students will become farm owners instead of farm workers. Small farms participating in The Dalles Public Market generated over $150,000 in booth sales last year. With the current emphasis on locally sourced food, the time for this shift to small farms is now.”