July 10, 2015—Mary Ellen Vanni, retiring executive director of the States' largest fuel fund, the Fuel Fund of Maryland, was awarded the Sister Pat Kelley award last month during the annual National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) conference. The award, among NEUAC's highest honors, is given annually in recognition of exemplary efforts in raising awareness of the needs of low income energy consumers and in fostering public-private partnerships and engaging in activities to address these needs.
According to a news release of the Fuel Fund of Maryland's website, John Rich, president of NEUAC the nation's largest advocacy group of energy assistance professionals stated that "Mary Ellen Vanni has spent her career and, particularly the past 17 years at the Fuel Fund of Maryland, exemplifying the work of Sister Pat Kelley, the founder of our movement and the woman for whom we have named the Sister Pat Kelley award. No one in Maryland is more deserving of this award."
The Sister Pat Kelley award is given in recognition to people carrying on the late Sister Patricia Kelley's personal mission to aid the poor and underprivileged. That mission began in 1981 when she first formed the Missouri Project Energycare program on a $20,000 one-year grant from the National Council of Senior Citizens. The drought and heatwave in the Midwest during the previous year that had claimed thousands of lives brought to her attention the necessity of energy assistance for the poor and elderly. She often said that "the poor have suffered enough" and made it her life's work to understand energy problems and organize a way to solve them. When the original grant ran out, Sister Pat went on to help found Missouri Energycare, Inc. and then the National Fuel Fund Network (NFFN). The NFFN, at the time, consisted of 12 fuel funds, trade associations and utilities whose goal was to create a national network.
In addition to forming Missouri Project Energycare, Missouri Energycare, Inc., and the National Fuel Fund Network, Sister Pat also worked with Laclede Gas Company in her hometown of St. Louis to establish the Dollar Help Fuel Fund. Between the time the fuel fund was started in November 1983, and her shocking murder in 1987, the Dollar Help Fuel Fund raised over $1.5 million in assistance funds.
Thirty years after Sister Pat helped found the National Fuel Fund Network, NFFN merged with the National Low Income Energy Consortium to form the current National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition. It carries on her mission today.
Sources: NEUAC, Incarnate Word Sisters Justice and Peace Committee, PR News