Each year since 1986, Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association (PREA)—the Harrisburg-based statewide representing electric cooperatives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey—has hosted a successful, cutting-edge training program for member cooperative communicators. Helping support the event over that span has been the CFC Cooperative Educational Fund (log-in required).

"The conference was groundbreaking for its time, and we've tried to keep that same commitment to training and education," remarks Peter Fitzgerald, PREA director of communications and editor of Penn Lines, the statewide's monthly consumer publication. "For most of the first decade it was known as the Penn Lines Workshop, since the magazine served as the chief source of communications for our systems. Held at PREA headquarters, the workshop offered 1.5-day hands-on guidance in content development, photography techniques, layout design basics and writing tips."

As methods of cooperative communication grew, by the mid-1990s the focus expanded to additional topics—preparing radio and TV advertisements, building websites, fashioning branding campaigns and receiving updates from national organizations like CFC. As a result, the name was changed to the more encompassing PREA Communications Workshop and the site moved to State College—home of Penn State University, and centrally located for all cooperatives. With pressures of electric deregulation sweeping over the Mid-Atlantic region in the late 1990s, the workshop briefly switched to a joint endeavor with two other statewides, the Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives and the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives, where more than 60 communicators shared information and worked on ways to "up their game" in the face of possible retail competition.

In 2017, the PREA Communications Workshop evolved again, this time to 1.5-day Strategic Communications Forum held in Harrisburg in even-numbered years, and a 2.5-day Communications Institute located at State College in odd years.

The 2018 PREA Communications Forum included speakers on crisis communications, concerns and opportunities in rural communities, the NRECA Lexicon Project, a panel discussion on energy matters with media personalities as participants, and how safety messages can be better incorporated in outreach efforts. The 2017 PREA Communications Institute included presentations highlighting social media, videography and photography.

The CFC Cooperative Educational Fund was created in 1981 to promote awareness and appreciation of the seven cooperative principles. Through early 2019, the fund has distributed more than $13 million to statewide for various initiatives, from hosting lineworker safety sessions and community projects to teaching new employees about cooperatives.

Statewides can apply for annual CFC Educational Fund grants at any time. Contact your RVP or AVP for more information.