By Patrick B. McGuigan
Goodwill Industries hosted a gathering of local non-profit leaders last Friday, at which more than two dozen agencies joined to express appreciation to the management and employees of Chesapeake Energy Corp.
The company and its founder, Aubrey McClendon, have been the subject of a series of critical news stories from the Reuters news agency and other media entities.
Speakers included Rodney Bivens of the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank, Dr. Judy Jones (principal, Horace Mann Elementary), Deborah McAullife Senner (Allied Arts), Marnie Taylor (Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits) and Debby Hampton (United Way of Central Oklahoma). Also addressing a press conference was Ray Bitsche of Skyline Ministries.
Bivens emphatically expressed appreciation of both the financial support Chesapeake has given to care-giving agencies like his, and also for “thousands of volunteer hours Chesapeake employees have provided” in the community.
Dr. Jones described the energy company’s partnership with her MidCity school (located on N. Western Avenue) and the determination of employees there to improve student performance.
With Jones was Evelyn Smith, a fifth grader at Horace Mann, who said (in spontaneous remarks), “They always believed in me. I never felt alone.” In prepared reflections circulated to reporters at a press conference at the Goodwill headquarters on South Blackwelder Ave., Smith said, “I am one of those students who Chesapeake mentors currently mentor and have mentored since pre-school. Mentoring has and does make a difference in my personal education.”
Senner said Allied Arts “simply could not sustain its support for the arts in Central Oklahoma without the generosity of corporate visionaries like energy giants, Chesapeake and Devon. Several years ago when we’re looking to expand the benefits we provide … it was Aubrey and Chesapeake who led the way with the first transformational pledge.”
Marnie Taylor pointed to Chesapeake’s statewide impact in support of local charities in towns like Weatherford, Elk City, Woodward and Bridge Creek, among many others.
When Hampton asked attendees, “Which groups here get help from Chesapeake?” roughly half of those (other than reporters) present raised their hands.
The event attracted leaders or activists with local agencies that benefit from the energy giant’s giving or employee volunteers.
Hampton moderated the session. In response to questions from the media, she and others said motivation to hold the event did not emerge from Chesapeake, but from collective concern among the leadership of local groups supporting arts, care-giving and other charitable causes.