Giving Back: ECs Volunteer

Electrical contractors have volunteered and donated to charitable organizations and other causes for decades. In more recent years, contractors have embraced giving at a personal level.

O’Connell Electric Co.

O’Connell Electric Co., Rochester, N.Y., has a strong commitment to charity and volunteer work.

“We are a very successful company, so I have always believed we should give back to the community,” said Victor Salerno, CEO, O’Connell Electric Co.

His commitment is not only professional. It is personal.

“When I became CEO in 2006, one of the first initiatives I introduced was to have all of our executives become members of at least one nonprofit board to expand our presence in the community,” Salerno said.

O’Connell executives are now on the boards of the University of Rochester Medical Center, the YMCA and the Mary M. Parkes Center for Asthma, Allergy, and Pulmonary Care. Salerno himself is the former chairman and still on the board of St. John Fisher College, chair-elect of Center for Governmental Research, former chair of the board of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and a board member of other nonprofits.

“We also participate in United Way and other organizations,” he said. “Over the last several years, we have donated millions of dollars to nonprofits.”

The company is also involved in Habitat for Humanity.

“We donate materials and labor to some of these projects,” Salerno said. “Some of our electricians donate their time. We even did a solar installation on one of these homes.”

The company doesn’t require this of its employees, but many of them volunteer on their own.

O’Connell Electric also has offices in Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, where employees are involved in local food pantries, decorating Christmas trees for local nonprofits and more.

Salerno said it takes a lot of personal time to be this involved, but he has always believed that, if you are passionate about something, you will find the time to be involved.

Sal Electric Co. Inc.

Charitable giving also is a personal passion and commitment for Philip Chianetta, president and CEO of Sal Electric Co. Inc., Jersey City, N.J.

“A lot of the contributions we make are as a result of knowing people who have unfortunate circumstances in their lives, and we always want to help as much as possible,” he said. “I feel very fortunate. My life has been very blessed so far, and we have a very good business. This is a second-generation family business that was started 48 years ago, and I have been involved in it for 29 years. I have always believed that, since I have been blessed, I want to take a little bit of what I have and help other people out who are less fortunate.”

The list of organizations to which the company donates is long, from Ace Mentoring and Rebuilding Together and the American Heart Association, to the National MS Society, the New Jersey Special Olympics, Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund and many more. 

The company also recently donated electrical wiring work for the strength and conditioning gym at the Ridgewood YMCA in New Jersey.

Chianetta personally donates his time to Marble Jam Kids, an organization for children with autism.

“My wife and I have participated in events for this organization over the years,” he said. “In the future, as I find more people who are less fortunate and really need help, I want to be able to help.”

J.F. Electric

J.F. Electric, Edwardsville, Ill., also is committed to community involvement.

“We have always wanted to give back to the community and to make it a better place to live and work,” said Mandy Fowler, marketing coordinator, J.F. Electric.

How does the company make its charitable decisions?

“We have a donation request form, and we have a board that discusses each donation request and determines how it will benefit the community as well as to make sure that the organization’s values align with ours,” Fowler said.

One of the events J.F. Electric sponsors is Touch a Truck, an annual event that allows families and children the opportunity to explore and learn about various vehicles they see around town, such as fire trucks, utility trucks, buses, military vehicles, etc.

“For Touch a Truck each year, we will bring one of our trucks out and give miniature hard hats to the kids,” she said.

J.F. Electric also donates to A Better Place to Play Campaign, an initiative created in 2015 for building two new sports parks, which will provide state-of-the-art facilities for various outdoor sports such as baseball, softball, soccer and more. A third project is building an ice rink and teen center.

“Supporting our local youth and their interests in sports is an important investment and one that we plan to support even further in the future,” said Greg Fowler, president of J.F. Electric, in a March 2017 press release, when the company donated its second $50,000 check to the campaign.

J.F. Electric also donates to and provides volunteer labor for events ranging from the local Chamber of Commerce Halloween Parade and art fair to the Edwardsville School District, the Metro East Humane Society and the Watershed Nature Center.

The City of Edwardsville recognized J.F. Electric with the 2016 Business of the Year award.

In the future, the company plans to expand its charitable efforts to include efforts involving its employees. Each month, it will select a theme and encourage employees to participate. August, for example, was Back to School Month, and employees were encouraged to donate school items to help foster children. Fowler said that J.F. Electric will support Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Green volunteering

A number of ECs also donate their time and expertise by providing free educational seminars and classes to groups within their communities, often with a focus on green initiatives.

“Companywide, any time we do a new solar installation, our project manager conducts a free education/training session for the local fire department on how to work around solar if there is a fire,” said Brian Haug, director, energy solutions division, Continental Electric Construction Co., Oak Brook, Ill. “We also visit grade school and high school classrooms to educate students on how solar works and its benefits.”

This passing down of green knowledge is crucial when reaching out to younger generations.

“Once a year, I visit a local school and talk about electricity with the science class, and some of that covers sustainable and renewable-energy sources, the importance of conserving electricity, etc.,” said Adam Rude, director of construction services, ERMCO Electrical & Systems Contractor, Indianapolis.

Sometimes, these green volunteering initiatives expand beyond the local level to become statewide and even nationwide.

Haug is president of the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA), whose members are solar contractors and suppliers. The ISEA’s missions include education and advocacy for the solar industry in the state, including educating legislators on key issues.

“Recently, we helped legislators craft a new renewable portfolio standard for the state,” he said. “We also helped with the passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act, part of which promotes solar and wind jobs.”

The ISEA also conducts solar education for citizens through libraries and classes. It coordinates an annual solar tour, during which members of the general public visit homes and businesses with solar installations that allow these visitors to inspect their systems up close.


Salerno has important advice for any contractor considering giving back to its community.

“If you do sign up for something, be sure to show up and follow through,” he said. “Don’t just sign up for things to pad your resume.”

For Chianetta, giving back is the logical next step for a successful business.

“If you have a good business and are financially successful, take a step back, look in the mirror, say ‘thank you,’ and find a way to donate to people who are less fortunate in this world,” he said.

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