‘We’re in a Union … We Have All We Need’: Why These Members Give Back

This crew of young, volunteer-oriented IBEW members is making their mark, one can of yams at a time.

“We want to be visible in the community,” said Alexander Wilkins, head of Neptune, N.J., Local 1820’s RENEW/NextGen chapter. “We’re constantly looking for ways to be more active.”

Neptune, N.J., Local 1820 members Chris Thomas, left, and Rich Petersen deliver food to families for Thanksgiving as part of the local’s RENEW/NextGen effort.

Chartered in April, the 35-and-younger members started with a food drive last Thanksgiving assisting 13 families. With help from Business Manager Jeffrey Bollermann and some family members, they purchased and delivered $1,000 worth of boxes filled with turkeys, potatoes and all the ingredients for a dinner.

“Everyone was thankful and it’s such an easy way to help,” Wilkins said. “You don’t know the stories of these families, their hardships or what they’re going through, but delivering this one box makes a difference.”

They plan do it again next year, for twice the number of homes, and are looking at additional opportunities to partner with area shelters and food co-ops.

“We’re lucky. We’re in a union and we have all we need. This is a chance to give back and help where there is a need,” Wilkins said.

The 500-plus members of Local 1820 work for utility company New Jersey Natural Gas and New Jersey Residential Services. The young workers group has about 20 members and is growing.

“This is just another example of members getting involved, and it’s not a big local,” said Third District Vice President Don Siegel. “It’s what IBEW people do. We don’t do it for the accolades. We do it because we’re part of the community.”

Chris Erickson Jr., co-chair of the Third District Youth Caucus, says volunteerism is among one of the most visible missions of the youth network. Members of Wilmington, Del., Local 313 have ongoing projects with a local SPCA and are currently helping a veteran’s home.

Nearly half dozen members of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 1249 teamed up for a fundraiser called “Grow a Beard for Your Brother.” For the month of November, no shaving was allowed and they raised $3,000 for the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen, a nonprofit that assists fallen or injured IBEW members and their families.

Trenton, N.J., Local 260 members annually host a Christmas event for children, complete with toynextgens and a picture with Santa Claus. They have also sponsored a clothing drive with donations going to a local church.

RENEW/NextGen was created five years ago to cultivate the next generation of IBEW leaders. Today the IBEW boasts nearly 100 chartered committees.

“If we can get young people more involved in their community, they’re more likely to get involved in their union, and politically,” Siegel said.