By Tracy Correa
As if being a fire caption at Diablo Canyon Power Plant isn’t exciting enough, Scott Ellis spends his off time with Spike the alligator and a lemur named Bakari.
Ellis is a volunteer for Zoo to You, an educational program in San Luis Obispo County that promotes wildlife conservation by bringing animals to thousands of schoolchildren each year.
The nonprofit Zoo to You was named a winner of a $1,000 Power Your Community grant from PG&E after being nominated by Ellis.
PG&E recently announced that 91 organizations – all nominated by employees – had been selected for the grants of $1,000 or $2,500. The recipients are spread throughout the utility’s Northern and Central California service area.
“I can’t think of a more worthy organization,” said Ellis, whose deep commitment for animals led him to the rescue organization.
Ellis began volunteering for Zoo to You more than seven years ago. Initially, he repaired animal enclosures and later became a part-time zookeeper who helps teach children and community groups about the importance of these treasured animals.
“I’m grateful to assist the organization any way I can. But it’s a blast to walk onto a stage with a six-foot alligator,” said Ellis. He then pauses and corrects himself: “No. It’s a privilege.”
David Jackson, director of Zoo to You in Paso Robles, was overwhelmed when he learned of the grant award.
“It’s huge and amazing timing,” he said. “We just had an electrical fire. The contractor is donating his labor, but we have to pay for supplies.”
Jackson said the $1,000 grant should help cover the cost of electrical supplies that help power heat lamps, heating pads and other equipment at the zoo compound. “How perfect that a grant from PG&E would help cover this,” he said.
The zoo cares for animals ranging from exotic birds and reptiles to lions and tigers and bears (resisting the urge to say, “Oh, my”).
“We have animals that have been displaced, abused and abandoned,” said Jackson.
The rescued animals are introduced to schoolchildren as part of a traveling educational program. About 400 schools a year benefit from the program.
The past few years have been difficult for Zoo to You: The organization is still reeling from a fire in a multipurpose room three years ago that killed scores of its animals. But the organization recovered and came back strong.
The group relies heavily on donations and grants to continue its mission, and Ellis has been a significant role in the effort, said Jackson. “He’s been an amazing volunteer,” he said.
Ellis said he can’t think of a better way to spend his off time. “I have an African-crested porcupine quill on my desk to remind me how important my association with wildlife is,” he said.
Second year of funding
This is the second year of PG&E’s Power Your Community program. The employees’ relationship with the organization can be anything from founder to former neighbor.
PG&E chose grant recipients based on their connection to the company’s three community investment priorities—education, environmental stewardship, and community vitality.
“Power Your Community grants are ideal outlets for PG&E’s charitable giving,” said Ezra Garrett, vice president of community relations and chief sustainability officer at PG&E. “The relationships between the employees and the organizations make these grants particularly personal and special. And the dollars are supporting causes that improve the quality of life for our communities.”
The Power Your Community program is one of several ways PG&E gives back to the communities where its customers and employees live and work. In 2011, the utility contributed $23 million to charitable organizations and plans to provide even more this year. PG&E offers more information on its community investments on its website.
Email Tracy Correa at email@example.com.