On Feb. 8, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio, the unimaginable happened. A 1.8-mile-long train carrying hazardous materials derailed in the northeast Ohio community served by FirstEnergy’s Ohio Edison electric company, spilling toxic and highly flammable chemicals. Thousands of residents evacuated their homes as authorities carried out a controlled burn to prevent a potential explosion.
A massive plume of smoke hung over the area for days, contaminating the town’s soil, air and water and evoking nationwide concern for everyone displaced by the disaster. Donations poured in from surrounding communities, and volunteers, including FirstEnergy employees, gave freely of their time and resources, delivering vital supplies to families and businesses in distress.
Responding to the challenging needs of our communities reflects the best of FirstEnergy and our 12,000 employees who work hard to deliver essential electricity to more than 6 million customers every day. For over two decades, FirstEnergy and the FirstEnergy Foundation have built long-term, productive relationships with community partners, stretching all our resources to make positive, sustainable investments that strengthen communities for generations to come.
Funded solely by FirstEnergy, the FirstEnergy Foundation supports the corporate mission and business strategy by investing in transformative organizations that enhance the vitality, sustainability and diversity of communities within the company’s six-state territory. These philanthropic and community engagement efforts are largely driven by the energy and enthusiasm of the company’s employees.
“We listen. We learn. That’s the key to understanding what our neighbors need and finding nonprofit partners who can help in meaningful ways and, in some cases, as quickly as possible to ease community suffering,” said Lorna Wisham, president of FirstEnergy Foundation.
In East Palestine, the Foundation partnered with The Brightside Project to stock its new Sunshine Bus with food, personal care items, books and stuffed “Reading Buddies” for students in preschool through 12th grade.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the support from generous corporate donors such as the FirstEnergy Foundation,” said Lisa Wallace, co-director of The Brightside Project. “Our work through The Sunshine Bus is easing family stress and empowering the children in East Palestine – ensuring they have a bright future and the tools to overcome any adversity they may face in life, not just a train derailment.”
The FirstEnergy Foundation’s charitable investments are aligned with each of the company’s five core values and our mission to positively impact our customers, communities and other stakeholders and strive to protect the environment. When the unimaginable happens, like the East Palestine emergency, we help ensure critical resources are available to affected customers and their communities.
The same holds true for our response to the Covid pandemic. Without knowing the full impact of what was to come – food insecurity, skyrocketing unemployment, a mental health crisis and more – the FirstEnergy Foundation immediately infused $2 million into foodbanks and United Way agencies to help provide immediate assistance to communities we serve.
Two months into the unprecedented health crisis, the Foundation launched Investing with Purpose (IWP), a $7 million initiative developed to support nonprofit organizations that advanced health and safety, workforce development and educational initiatives as well as nonprofits focused on social justice initiatives in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
The Foundation engaged FirstEnergy’s employee-led Executive Business Resource Groups in IWP efforts, resulting in funding for numerous nonprofit programs, including black business incubators, workforce training programs for individuals with developmental disabilities and first responder sensitivity training for LGBTQ homeless teens.
Through it all, the Foundation has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2022, the Foundation and other corporate giving initiatives disbursed nearly $14 million to nonprofit organizations, with over 20% targeted to diverse nonprofits, up from approximately 8% in 2018.
“The needs of our communities are growing,” said Wisham. “Our approach to charitable giving will continue to evolve to serve those needs because we believe the greater good is better business.”