Insights > Garrison’s Ideas, Energy Bolster Grand Gulf’s Community Ties
Garrison’s Ideas, Energy Bolster Grand Gulf’s Community Ties
Ed Garrison, recovery manager at Entergy’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, is a community connector, strengthening relationships that tie organizations and citizenry together to make a bigger impact than any individual could manage alone. Through his efforts, Garrison received one of Entergy Nuclear’s Employee Spotlight recognitions.
Since late 2017, that skill has been at work in Port Gibson and Claiborne County, benefiting Grand Gulf’s home base in projects that warm hearts and homes. A movie night brightened fall for community youth. Beautification efforts spruced up Port Gibson’s historic downtown. Volunteers winterized hundreds of homes across the town’s six wards. From generating ideas to galvanizing volunteers and partners, Garrison is often the face of Entergy’s public outreach there.
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had over the course of 42 years in a nuclear power organization, through the Navy or through commercial nuclear power,” said Garrison, with Entergy since 2008 and now approaching six years at Grand Gulf. “It made me feel good that we’re doing something for somebody that really needs it,” plus getting the community involved and excited.
Garrison hails from Madison, Wisconsin, and traces his outreach spirit to the time he, led the local Parent Teacher Association in Davenport, Iowa. “We actually started a grassroots campaign to get the community engaged with the parents, and get the kids involved,” he said. “By the time we left, we ended up building a $100,000 playground, put the ball field in and advocated for a turnaround because the school was on a busy street.”
When Eric Larson, then Grand Gulf site vice president (now vice president plant reliability for Entergy Nuclear) approached him about helping Grand Gulf get more engaged with Claiborne County, Garrison was up to the task. They met with community leaders — the aldermen, mayor and 13 churches — to discuss how to help people in need.
Wheelchair ramps, yard cleanup and window replacement were among the needs of those who lacked funds for the work. One ramp was for a youth paralyzed by a gunshot wound, whose parents had to lift him in and out of the wheelchair to leave the house. “They’re about my age, getting older. … It was getting to be a strain on them,” Garrison said. In 2018, nearly 100 volunteers from Grand Gulf built two ramps, fixed all kinds of homes, and even painted one in three hours with all the input. “But, we didn’t have too big a participation from the community.”
That would change. “The second year, we got even bigger,” with students from Alcorn State University and Port Gibson High joining clean-up efforts for Engage 2019. The 10-day winterization-themed community volunteer event pooled participants from Entergy’s Grand Gulf Station and nuclear fuels offices, and community partners, including the City of Port Gibson, Port Gibson Chamber of Commerce, Christian Volunteer Services, AmeriCorps, Terry Service and Day & Zimmerman. The volunteer count included 175 from the community and 117 from the plant.
Over three weeks, Garrison walked house to house with city aldermen, asking people, “What do you need?” and making a list. Safety, a core value of Entergy’s Nuclear Excellence Model, was front and center, as scout teams checked sites in advance. “I’m safety first on the job, right? So we had to go and see if there were any safety obstacles we had to get out of the way before bringing the rest of our team in,” Garrison said.
Home winterization efforts included weather stripping, caulking, gutter cleaning and debris removal, heat-wrapping pipes, HVAC attention, energy-efficient lightbulbs and more. “One lady had no windows for three years,” Garrison said of a homeowner whose broken windows were replaced with new panes in the effort. Between home fixes and yard cleanup, “We took out 24 loads of refuse, and we took 11 dumpsters full of metal that we could recycle, and we gave the money back to the community.”
Locally bought supplies invested back into the community, too, from hardware store purchases to lunches for volunteers. “We spent over $250,000 between man hours and materials last year, doing that project,” winterizing more than 230 homes and cleaning up the town and parks, culminating in 250 people on a Saturday downtown engaged in the effort. Grand Gulf workers pitched in 864 volunteer hours.
Pride in community was a big takeaway. “Here I am, driving down the street, tired as all get out because it’s two weeks of pure 4 in the morning till 7 or 8 o’clock at night, making sure things were ready for the next day, and then I realized what a kid was doing,” Garrison said. A youth had tossed a soda can and trash on the ground, and a young girl went over to remind him, “This is our town. Take pride in Port Gibson. Pick it up and put it in the trashcan.” Garrison said, “That made me feel so good, it was unbelievable.”
With the boost in local participation, 2020 was on track until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and projects took a back seat, to minimize contact. Still, a few programs moved ahead. A downtown wall in Port Gibson, pressure washed and painted white by a Grand Gulf vendor donating time on a Saturday, became the “screen” for a movie night.
Grand Gulf’s donated movie projector and popcorn machine got their first outing on Halloween, with a showing of “Black Panther” for about 150 children. Port Gibson’s big Farmers Market lot offered plenty of room for distancing and a safe spot for trick-or-treating. “We had a blast,” said Garrison, with local businesses, Lion’s Club, 4-H club and more partaking in festivities. More movie nights are ahead, he said, chuckling about the “boat-ton” of popcorn remaining in the 50-pound bag they’d bought.
For Thanksgiving, Grand Gulf donated 160 turkeys for a giveaway to those needing holiday help. “We took them to their houses and there were people saying, ‘I didn’t know how I was going to be able to eat, and now I’ve got two weeks’ worth of food here.’ … People were just in awe.” Thanksgiving Day, in coordination with the churches, he and fellow Grand Gulf volunteers helped plate up and deliver 350 Thanksgiving meals to nursing homes and others.
A big Entergy grant helped bring Christmas cheer to Port Gibson’s less fortunate. The project included 100 bicycles and hundreds of toys for kids, plus blankets, slippers, food baskets and more for adults, in a Holiday Extravaganza planned with 13 churches.
“It makes you feel like you’ve done something for the community and Entergy’s been engaged with it,” Garrison said, “and I’ve got other employees that want to get engaged.”
Linda Ory, director of the Port Gibson Chamber of Commerce and president of the nonprofit CARES, praised Garrison’s fresh ideas and perspective. “He brings a lot to the table. He’ll sit down and talk to us, and show us how to do things we’ve never done here before,” she said, including guidance on grants, even outside of Entergy.
“I’ve been at the chamber six years, and tried everything I thought might work. Sometimes you’ve got to have a little money to go with it, and a fresh mind on it, to approach it in a different manner and that’s what he’s good at — looking at it in a different way,” Ory said. “He’s been a really big asset. I couldn’t say enough on what he’s done and what Entergy has done to help Port Gibson.”
Community activities have been crucial in building relationships, personally and professionally, that are mutually beneficial for the economically depressed but close-knit community, and for Grand Gulf in preparing a future workforce.
Activities involve a lot of work, and fun, too. “Everybody jokes, and then we all break bread together,” Garrison said of gatherings at Christian Volunteer Service’s building with volunteers and kids. A former instructor and training manager, he’ll give a little speech, then ask, “What did you learn today?”
When teens would say, “Hey, I want to go work at Entergy,’” or “I’d like to be a tradesman,” they would be paired with engineers and construction workers from the plant, to find out more. “Some of them are still mentoring those kids,” Garrison said. So is he. When a student tapped him for guidance, Garrison shared his own experience going the military route, as well as the benefits college provides.
“That’s what it’s about. You’ve got to get the younger people engaged.” Such interactions led to the collaborative welding program between Grand Gulf and Port Gibson High School. A dozen seniors came to Grand Gulf during a refueling outage, gaining practical application for their abilities. The program involved training and contacts with a range of departments at Grand Gulf. Garrison would always ask, “What did you learn?”
Entergy’s core value of Teamwork is deeply embedded in community engagement efforts and partnerships. With Entergy’s commitment, “We’ve showed them that when we said we’re going to do something, we did it. Plus, we gave them extra effort and got more done than was expected,” Garrison said.
When Garrison suffered a serious bout with COVID-19 last April, the community kicked into action. “When they found out I was sick and in quarantine in my little apartment down here, they’d bring me a dinner, they’d bring me a breakfast, they’d bring me a lunch, no questions asked, for two weeks straight, and asked if I needed anything,” he said.
“That tells you loads about the people. We give to them, but they give back plenty more than I can ever imagine.”
The Entergy Nuclear Employee Spotlight recognizes team members exhibiting a safe working culture, passion for teamwork, an always learning attitude, upholding integrity, and being respectful.