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The Warmth Connection – Winter 2021 Newsletter

Thank you for continuing to be the bridge between crisis and stability for so many families. We asked you for even more in 2020 and you came through for us. In April, THAW initiated a new program — Front Line for Energy. You helped us pay utility bills for 1300 front-line workers as they put their lives at risk for us. Nearly 75% of these homes had young children. THAW is honored to have made a difference in the lives of these wonderful people.

Since March, we’ve had our talented THAW team working mostly from home as we stepped up to help the most vulnerable in our community last year. Like the THAW team, Michigan families are using more energy than ever as they spend more time cooking, working, learning and doing everything from home. At the same time, unemployment hit record levels as businesses shut their doors due to the COVID-19 restrictions. THAW is a critical lifeline to keep utilities on for area families.

We’ve got some really hard months ahead. Winter has arrived and the COVID numbers are still spiking. We anticipate the need for THAW’s utility relief services is going to be unprecedented.

After celebrating 35 years of service, our mission has never been more important. We are here to make sure as many Michigan family is able to meet their essential heat, electricity and water needs. As you make 2021 giving plans, I encourage you to continue to remember THAW and the people we serve.

On a personal note, thank you for the kind calls, texts and notes as I fight breast cancer. I made the decision to share my story in an effort to encourage others to get their mammograms. It is so important to have these regular tests and take good care of yourselves! I am getting stronger every day and have returned to work. I am grateful to my family — at home and at work — for helping me get through the past few months.

Warm regards,

Saunteel Jenkins
Chief Executive Officer
The Heat and Warmth Fund

Make a gift to support THAW.

THAW Powers Forward with Millennial-Lead Council

THAW has launched its inaugural Emerging Leaders Power Forward Council. The purpose of the Emerging Leaders Council is four-fold: to create a pipeline of talent for THAW and the nonprofit community of Michigan; to establish a diverse and inclusive council that represents the community THAW serves; to build and expand awareness of the mission and organization throughout the region; to improve opportunities for volunteerism.

Earlier this year, THAW sought out millennial leaders of diverse backgrounds to lead this effort. Embracing and encouraging differences in age, race, ability, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics, THAW has formalized the council.

One of the members is Amanda Spinner. Amanda is a second-year MBA/MS dual degree student at the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan. She focuses on strategy and sustainability, with an interest in renewable energy and how traditional energy companies are adapting to a changing energy economy. She is also passionate about energy equity and ensuring that a clean energy transition is both just and inclusive.

She expressed that becoming a member of the Power Forward Council is not only an opportunity to make a difference but a chance to drive an equitable energy future. Amanda is looking forward to understanding the needs of households that THAW serves because “inequity really does plague the energy space.” Amanda says that she is interested in examining the impact of coal plants in low- income neighborhoods and communities of color and advancing the conversations that center these groups.

In addition to inequity, inclusion is critical to Amanda. “There’s a need to make sure all voices are heard, and representative of people impacted by these things or we’re not adequately solving problems,” she said.

Amanda, who graduated from Stanford University in 2015, was formally trained in advertising and technology. She became interested in utility and energy access and climate change right before beginning her current degree program.

California born, she recalls experiencing wildfires. “I also have family on the East Coast who experienced hurricanes.” These disasters created a sense of urgency, causing her to change her entire professional trajectory.

Amanda hopes that the Power Forward Council will “help establish a tight-knit, collaborative group of young professionals who are helping to forward the mission of THAW, understand what’s made the organization successful, understand the needs, and add a refreshing perspective to drive change.”

Millennial service and collaboration are essential to THAW’s continued work. “It’s important for younger generations to be involved in work that serves a greater purpose. Service helps to understand the magnitude of problems and address them better. Inter-generational problems require inter-generational change. We can learn from previous generations and use knowledge to more impactfully problem solve.”

Part of that problem solving includes working towards energy equitable and sustainable Michigan. “When I think about the future of the energy industry, I think clean energy transitions come to mind. It’s only a matter of time before we shift here. This can only happen through an equitable lens, ensuring everyone has access to energy, and everyone can participate in a clean energy economy. For example, too many barriers exist in allowing people of low-moderate income to weatherize homes. This shouldn’t be out of reach,” she says.

THAW’s mission is vital to Amanda because she fundamentally believes that access to energy and utilities are fundamental human rights. Moving from the sunshine state and experiencing several frigid Michigan winters, as well as COVID-19, has helped her to realize that “while we feel energy secure today, we don’t know what the future holds.” That is, unless more people commit to making the change.

COVID-19 has intensified energy insecurity, making THAW’s work even more critical. Amanda says that THAW’s work “helps people live healthy and need-fulfilled lives.”

Amanda, who considers herself to be a champion and fighter for energy equity, is inspired by the words of Carla Walker-Miller. She leads and serves with them in mind:

  1. Courage is a renewable resource. This is a time to be courageous.
  2. Diverse policy and voices allow us to make better decisions.
  3. Energy justice.

Amanda looks forward to learning, collaborating, and helping THAW to Power Forward. To learn more about the Power Forward Council, visit

Energy Saving Tips from DTE Energy

As the temperatures drop, people turn on their heating systems, and shorter days mean lights stay on longer. These seasonal changes can increase your energy bills. But you can take these steps to stay warm and comfortable while keeping those bills low.

  1. Install a programmable thermostat. You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and lower while you’re asleep or away. You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply adjusting your thermostat 7°- 10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.
  2. Dress appropriately for the weather by pulling out those cozy socks and sweaters. On cold winter nights, put an extra blanket on the bed and lower your thermostat another degree or two to save even more.
  3. Keep the air flowing — Make sure rugs, drapes, or furniture are not blocking airflow from registers to improve efficiency and comfort.
  4. Upgrade your lighting — Lighting accounts for about 20% of a typical electric bill. ENERGY STAR® LED light bulbs use up to 90% less energy and last 15 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. Plus, switching to LED bulbs can save about $55 in electricity costs over the lifetime of a bulb. Visit the DTE Marketplace to purchase LED bulbs and other energy efficiency products for your home.
  5. Install window sheeting — Low-cost, clear plastic window sheeting can be installed over leaking windows to keep cold air out. The plastic must be sealed tightly to the frame to help reduce infiltration.
  6. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation as needed can save you up to 10% on your annual energy bills. Visit our Insulation & Windows webpage to see if you’re eligible for rebates on energy-efficient insulation and window upgrades.
  7. Close the Fireplace Damper — Keep your fireplace damper closed unless a fire is burning. Keeping the damper open is like keeping a window wide open during the winter allowing warm air to go right up the chimney.
  8. Get a furnace or boiler tune-up to make sure your equipment is running at peak performance. If your equipment is old and needs to be replaced, upgrade to a high-efficiency model and get rebates of up to $900.
  9. Visit our virtual Energy Efficient Home for room-by-room tips to reduce your energy and save all winter long.
  10. Download the Free DTE Insight App to track your energy usage and find ways to save even more.

Get more recommendations for saving money and energy at

Make a gift to support THAW.

2020 Events Moved Online

THAW still executed several fundraisers last year. Even though presented virtually, the community, sponsors, and donors responded to the call raising critical funds to support Michigan families in need. Thank you to the sponsors, supporters, volunteers, community members, and donors who made these events successful.

Swing with Bling

More than 40 supporters last year selected a course and had a great time golfing together with their favorite foursome while remaining socially distant. More than $11,000 was raised. That’s 15 families THAW can help this year.

Week of Warmth

The Week of Warmth looked different this year, as THAW debuted five short videos on a range of energy and service- related topics. The Night of Warm Hearts, presented virtually by DTE, was a wonderful broadcast that included stories from clients and board members, a live auction, a message from Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and a comedy set by Mike Young. The event raised an incredible $375,000 for THAW programs this winter. A big thank you to the evening’s host: Evrod Cassimy of WDIV-TV4.

Gift of Warmth Giving Tuesday Telethon

THAW hosted its annual Gift of Warmth Telethon on #GivingTuesday, December 1. THAW partnered with Channel 4 Local News to share moving stories about THAW’s services and impact. This year’s event proved that we could do more together. It also proved that the needs in our communities are great, but so is the generosity. We are grateful for the enormously generous outpouring of donations, which topped $175,000.

35 years after its founding, THAW’s work remains incredibly important in reducing human suffering and meeting the needs of vulnerable populations.

Thank you for giving the Gift of Warmth this season and for tuning in to the annual Telethon. Though we couldn’t be in the studio together this year, the collective efforts surpassed the goal. This speaks to the power of community, whether in-person or virtual.

Your gifts will allow hundreds of families experiencing energy insecurity to receive support through THAW’s programs and services.

Heat is a basic and essential human need. Thank you for helping to meet the critical needs of Michigan families.

THAW’s Team Drives Mighty Mission

Director of Outreach Sherrelyn McAboy and Utility Assistance Center Manager Brandi Turner, are two team members who lead THAW’s work with compassion and empathy.

Sherrelyn joined the team over a decade ago. Brandi joined just last year onboarding at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though their tenure is different, their hearts for service are the same.

The Outreach Department and Utility Assistance Center work closely to ensure that clients have their essential needs met through programs and services. Sherrelyn and Brandi work for heat and work for hope.

“I want people to receive quality service when they contact THAW for their utility relief needs,” said Brandi.

Sherrelyn, who builds and maintains strong relationships with utility companies, agencies, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and other community organizations says, “Whatever it is people need, we do our best to service them. It’s not just about paying bills but providing wraparound services that will help people live, restore their dignity and self-worth by normalizing the need for help,” said Sherelyn.

THAW’s team members help reduce the shame associated with needing help and encourage people to apply for relief during the crisis. Brandi said, “It’s not easy for people to communicate a need. We discover that there are underlying issues like the need for food or prescriptions. It’s not just about energy. It’s about helping people to sustain and get to a pathway of sufficiency.”

If you tuned in to THAW’s Annual Gift of Warmth Telethon in partnership with Channel 4 Local News, you may have heard more about Brandi’s story. “Many years ago, I was a recipient of THAW. I was a single mom, raising three kids with very minimal support. The one thing that you don’t want is for your kids to be in the cold or the dark, especially during the winter months. I reached out to THAW, and they helped me. That stuck with me. Being in front of that representative on that day, they left me with my dignity. I was a person, not just a case for them. I felt cared for. Coming back many years later to help people who may be experiencing what I experienced, or in a similar situation is so powerful. That’s why I drive the mission. That’s why I never lose sight of how important this work is,” said Brandi.

Brandi champions for every person who calls THAW in need of support, including LaToyia, a single mother of two school-aged sons living in Detroit. Access to utilities is always essential, but especially during a Michigan winter. With the pandemic’s ongoing risks and her sons virtually learning, Latoyia’s family is spending more time at home than ever before.

THAW provided utility relief for LaToyia’s family, ensuring that they had electricity and water, essentials in keeping them warm and healthy.

Kevin also shared his story with Channel 4 Local News about his son, who has special needs and uses medical equipment that requires electricity.

The increased electric use inevitably increased household bills. His family fell behind on payments. THAW intervened, stepped in the gap, and supported Kevin’s family to ensure that utility and medical needs were met. He called it, “a very, very good blessing.” THAW literally helps to save lives.

LaToyia and Kevin’s stories are just two examples of how people can easily find themselves experiencing energy insecurity. THAW’s success in empowering and stabilizing Michigan families like theirs is primarily due to the team, including Sherrelyn and Brandi, who work hard to provide much-needed services. THAW’s success is also due to the continued support of generous donors and supporters. With your help, we can continue to change the lives of Michigan residents and families. Needs are significant and will increase this winter season, but so are the hearts for service. So is the generosity.