A 1973 accident left Bob Bardwell a paraplegic, but his isn’t a story of tragedy. It’s a story of hope.
Bardwell had long dreamed of starting a faith-based camp, and in 1976, Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch in Stewartville, Minnesota, became a reality. It's grown by leaps and bounds since then, and as Bardwell likes to say, it's a camp that is "spreading joy and changing lives."
It'll have more opportunities to do just that, because Bardwell is the $5,000 grand prize winner in Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives' second annual #WhoPowersYou contest.
"I'm very honored," Bardwell told NRECA News. "We didn't expect this."
Ironwood Springs serves a wide variety of people. It's home to the National Wheelchair Sports Camp, and Bardwell said he expects to put about half of the prize money toward that.
He sees the other half going to Operation Welcome Home, a series of faith-based weekends for veterans, wounded warriors and Gold Star families. "We opened free of charge in 2008 and have served about 1,000 families," said Bardwell.
Ironwood Springs—which has 15 full-time staffers and a lot of volunteers—also hosts other activities, including summer camps for youngsters and a retreat for families with autistic children.
Ask Bardwell why he does it, and his answer is succinct: "I was given a second chance in life."
Bardwell was nominated by Gwen Stevens, director of member and community relations at People's Energy Cooperative in Oronoco, Minnesota, following a fundraising event for the Operation Welcome Home program at Ironwood Springs.
"I'm so inspired by Bob's journey," said Stevens. "He's truly on a mission to serve. I was on cloud nine and filled with absolute joy when I found out Bob won."
The $2,000 #WhoPowersYou second prize went to Mike and Stacy Simmons, founders of The Lord's Pantry in West Salem, Ohio. Since opening last March, they have distributed more than 120,000 pounds of food. The Simmonses were nominated by Robyn Tate, human resources and community relations director at Millersburg, Ohio-based Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative.
The winner of the $1,500 third prize was Mary Rio, founder of Clothing Our Kids, which has distributed more than 70,000 articles of clothing to over 12,000 children in Sussex County, Delaware, since 2012. Rio was nominated by Kathleen Blouin, the charity's media and community relations manager, who is a member of Delaware Electric Cooperative in Greenwood.
Honorable mention went to Chase Marvil, 20, who in 2013 began The Inspiring Project, which has gone on to become a global organization working to help combat bullying and suicide. Marvil, who is also a Delaware Electric Cooperative member, won $500.