CARING FOR OUR COMMUNITY: Bluebonnet programs lend a hand


Round Top's Family Library is no ordinary place. Director Barbara Smith says guests are often astounded by the architecture of the building, originally a church built in 1925. The library has received two grants from the LCRA and Bluebonnet, totalling more than $26,000. (Sarah Beal photo)

Bluebonnet, through the LCRA, has given more than $2.6 million in grants to co-op-area nonprofits

By Ed Crowell
Question: What do these things have in common? The Round Top Family Library, the Maxwell Social Club in Caldwell County, a youth baseball park in Fayetteville, a solar-powered water well demonstration project in Luling, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society’s museum in Lee County and the Dale Community Center.
Oh, and dozens of volunteer fire departments.
Answer: They all got grants from the Community Development Partnership Program, which is administered by the Lower Colorado River Authority and uses funds regularly collected from its member co-ops.
Since 1995, the program has assisted non-profit organizations that need a helping hand. Twice a year, a board that includes a Bluebonnet representative reviews applications and makes selections.
Organizations in Bluebonnet’s service area have been given more than $2.6 million over the past 19 years. The majority of recipients are volunteer fire departments that protect lives and property in eight counties. The entire LCRA program has provided nearly $41 million via 1,440 grants to all of its participating co-op customers through fiscal year 2014. Applicants requesting $5,000 or more must raise at least 20 percent in matching funds. The largest grants today are $25,000.
Hondo Powell, chief of staff at Bluebonnet, is vice chairman of the nine-member program board. The program “allows nonprofits to not just exist but to grow and thrive and provide more services and opportunities for their communities,” he said.
The grants help rural social halls, arts and cultural groups and town facilities that are “important to the fabric of the communities,” Powell said. During his five years on the board, grants have increased for water and energy conservation projects, as well as for volunteer fire departments dealing with drought conditions, he said.
Here is a closer look at two grant recipients in the Bluebonnet service area: 
Round Top Family Library
The tiny Fayette County town of Round Top is best known for its historical buildings, antique sales, flea markets, pies from Royers and University of Texas student Shakespeare productions. 
Less well-known is one of the best little libraries in Texas. In fact, it is the smallest public library accredited by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The library boasts 13,000 volumes of fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children. Computers and e-readers also offer tech tools to the community.
Frequent special reading events occur, including many in summer to keep kids’ eyes on books and away from electronic screens. 
Opened 14 years ago, the library is on 2½-acres, with two buildings that outshine most small community libraries. The exquisite Sterling & Marianne McCall Library Building was once the Hope Lutheran Church in Milam County. Built in 1925, the building was dismantled, moved in seven pieces to Round Top and restored in 2001 and 2002.
What do first-time visitors or tourists say when they step into the library and its soaring Gothic architecture? “ ‘Wow!’ ” director/librarian Barbara Smith said.
The Rummel Haus, built in the 1870s, is the other building on site. It was renovated and is the library’s activity center today. A fenced community garden and a memorial garden are also on the property. 
Smith, who has been at the library since 2004, said the library operates primarily with volunteers and board members who represent a “village” of benefactors and grant organizations. “We’re all about team effort and working together for a common goal.” 
In 2004, the Round Top Library Association received an $18,618 program grant to install an outdoor playscape, and in 2009, a $7,500 grant helped pay for a new cooling/heating system at the Rummel Haus. 
Round Top has only 91 residents, but the library at 206 W. Mill St. serves more than 4,000 residents of north Fayette County and adjacent areas of Lee, Washington and Austin counties.
Dale Community Center
Families and sports take center stage at this gathering place for the unincorporated Caldwell County community of Dale. It’s all done under a sturdy roof replaced in 1999 as part of a $17,300 program grant through Bluebonnet. The center also upgraded plumbing and recreational facilities with the money. Another grant for $9,500 in 2001 completed renovations to the building that had been the Dale School decades ago.
Jerry West, director of the center for a year, has lived in the Dale area since 1979. The building at 111 Civic Drive was turned into a community center in 1956 and is operated by a nonprofit board. The center hosts social events, sports and fitness activities and fundraisers for the volunteer fire department. It’s also the precinct hall for voting.
Isabel and Miguel Ramirez run the basketball program at the center to provide a healthy outlet for the community’s young people. Co-ed games go on most Sunday evenings.
“They learn the fundamentals and rules as they play,” said Isabel of the games for ages 10-18.  “My husband referees, and that’s how we teach the game.”
Isabel also books special events at the center. “We have weddings, quinceañeras and lots of family reunions,” she said. The main hall holds 150 to 200 people and food is prepared in a separate kitchen.
Austin Collier, 15, started playing basketball at the center a year and half ago. He is home-schooled in Lockhart, but there are no indoor courts available to him there because he’s not in public school.
“I didn’t play much basketball before, but a few of my friends did at the community center in Dale, and once I started, I liked it a lot. Coach Miguel is very good and tells us, ‘Don’t do it if you don’t love it.’ ”
A fitness program and volleyball and soccer programs for kids are available, too.  The center even had a small role in a Walt Disney movie about a small-town soccer team, “The Big Green,” which was filmed in 1995.  
Bluebonnet programs lend a hand in many ways
For decades, Bluebonnet has offered opportunities and outreach to members. Programs include:
SCHOLARSHIPS — Since its start in 1998, high school graduates have received more than $840,000 in scholarships to academic, and later, trade-and-technical schools. 
This year, 24 eligible graduating high school seniors were awarded $2,500 scholarships each for education at a university, college, community college or junior college. Another 24 seniors get $2,500 each to earn a trade or technical certificate or associate degree in a vocational field. 
Applicants for both types of scholarships are judged on a short essay, and applications are available at or from area high school counselors.
GOVERNMENT-IN-ACTION YOUTH TOUR — U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson started bringing high school students from rural co-op areas in Texas to Washington, D.C., in the 1950s. He wanted to give them a lesson in how lawmaking worked.
In 1964, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association got behind the idea and expanded it nationally. This summer, more than 1,600 teens from across the country visited Washington through the program. The Texas Electric Cooperatives association sponsors students from Texas; 120 went to the weeklong tour this year, including two from Bluebonnet. Students selected in 2014 also received a $500 scholarship their senior year of high school.
They met members of Congress at the Capitol, toured historical sites and museums, and attended NRECA events.
Tour applications are due in January, and information is available at under the Community tab. Students must be in grades 10, 11 or 12 and live in the home of a Bluebonnet member. 

SCHOLARSHIP GOLF TOURNAMENT — The 10th edition of this tournament will be May 28, 2015, at the Wolfdancer Golf Club at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa near Bastrop. Money paid by team sponsors goes to the youth scholarships program. This year, 122 golfers represented 41 sponsors and donors.
SAFETY EDUCATION — Bluebonnet employees provide 45-minute presentations to elementary school students about how to stay safe around electricity, also teaching them how electricity works and how it reaches homes. Employees explain Bluebonnet’s participation in the Rural Crime Watch program, too. They teach kids that any time they see a person or vehicle with the Bluebonnet logo, they can safely ask that person for help.
COMMUNITY SPEAKERS — Bluebonnet’s electric power specialists offer presentations to local civic or social clubs, government organizations, and seniors or school groups. Speakers can explain the services and operations of the co-op, provide the latest information about trends and developments in the electric service industry, and educate groups about safety around electricity.
EVENTS ASSISTANCE — Drinking water, cooling fans and other amenities are supplied by Bluebonnet for numerous community and nonprofit events. Members of the co-op in need of such assistance should contact the community representative at their nearest Bluebonnet service center.

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