Patty Riddlebarger is Entergy’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. Corporate Social Responsibility is the idea that companies are a part of the communities they serve, and so have the duty to help those communities thrive. Beyond charitable donations and philanthropy, Corporate Social Responsibility assumes that as the community grows, the company can grow, and vice versa. Entergy has devoted an entire office to this idea, and annually commits around 15 to 16 million dollars a year across the United States. Patty ensures that Entergy’s money and man hours are distributed in ways that positively impact those most in need in the communities they serve across the United States.
Patty received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and her MBA from Tulane University. As a self-described “Air Force brat” and first generation American, she was used to moving around. The job opening at Entergy brought her to New Orleans, but the spirit about the people here led her to stay. “There’s certainly lots of challenges and lots of needs, but the city just grabs you in a way that’s difficult to describe. It’s beautiful,” she said.
Patty’s job involves helping that beauty to thrive and to grow. She does this by allocating funds from the Entergy Charitable Foundation, by funding community-based non-profits, and by encouraging employees to volunteer in local programs. She says, “We’re working to grow skills based volunteering. We really see that as an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to provide even bigger value to the non-profits that we serve. There are a lot of non-profits who have a need for professional skills—accounting help, back office help, pro-bono legal help, help designing brochures and writing websites. Things that people who have skills in those areas could help them do beyond the kind of projects where you get sweaty.” In order to incentivize Entergy employees to take part in volunteer work, the company provides $250 grants to employees who log 20 hours of pro-bono work up to $750 per employee per year.
Patty’s area of responsibility encompasses eight states. She is also responsible for low-income customer service initiatives, a series of programs designed to address the needs of Entergy’s low-income customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Though a large part of her job entails raising funds, she is also responsible for administering programs like “The Power to Care, where customers, employees, and shareholders can donate funds to provide emergency utility assistance for elderly and disabled customers who may be facing a crisis and are unable to pay their energy bill for that month,” said Patty. “It can be a lifesaving program, particularly here in the summer where it gets really hot and seniors may be forced to make choices about “can I afford to buy my medicine this month? Maybe I should cut my pills to try to make things stretch.””
She also says that Entergy helps to advocate for LIHEAP—the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP is a federal program that provides emergency utility assistance for all low income families based on household income and size. Due to budget pressure at the federal level, funding for the program has been cut over 30% in the past three years. Entergy advocates for those programs on behalf of their low-income customers.
However, Patty explained that Entergy does more at the community level than support energy programs. In New Orleans specifically, Entergy has supported several non-profits and community initiatives that relate to recycling, environmental sustainability, education, and transportation.
For the 47th annual Super Bowl, Patty served as the chair of the Environmental Initiative of the New Orleans Host Committee. By partnering with community non-profits like The Green Project, Repurposing NOLA, and the Second Harvest Food Bank, Entergy was able to support projects that helped to increase the positive impact of the Super Bowl for New Orleans. One program that the company supported involved collecting the signage that covered the city and repurposing it into purses, aprons, and tarps that are available through The Green Project and Repurposing NOLA. Another initiative, including the Second Harvest Food Bank, involved collecting 36,000 pounds of food made for parties that would otherwise have been thrown away, repackaging it into individual meals, and distributing it to local non-profits.
Entergy also partnered with Bike Easy during the Super Bowl to create a temporary bike sharing program modeled off cities like Portland, where visitors can rent bikes to tour the city. Patty mentioned that, “About 200 to 400 people used bikes used during every day during the Super Bowl. I think 1,500 people signed the petition hoping to bring a permanent bike sharing program to the city. Since the Super Bowl , Bike Easy got word from the EPA that New Orleans has been selected a test site for a bike pilot.”
More recently in May, Patty helped to organize the second annual NOLA Bike to Work Day in partnership with Bike Easy and the Louisiana Health institute. She describes the event as “a tool to draw awareness to the 55 miles of bike lanes and walkways and pathways that we now have in the city that we didn’t have before Katrina.” And mentioned that though NOLA is behind cities like Portland and Washington, “we’re now among the top ten for bicycle commuting in the country and we’ve been named a Bike America Friendly City, and we’re continuing to work on that and Entergy has invested in that significantly through a grant to the LA Public Health institute.”
Patty also mentioned the work that Entergy does with Schools for New Orleans and Teach for America to provide teachers with teaching supplies for their classrooms. “We wanted to show our appreciation for the work that they’re doing and the incredible advances that are schools have made since Katrina,” she said. “Entergy has been privileged to be involved in that program. We’ve invested over 8 million dollars in public education initiatives in the city since Katrina.”
When asked if the initiatives in the North were different than those in the south, Patty had this to say: “Every community does different things. Our program is designed to allow foe that flexibility. Across the entire company, we share in terms of our philanthropic focus we share education, poverty initiates, and environmental initiatives and those are largely funded through the Entergy Charitable Foundation.” In other words, Entergy focuses its charitable dollars on the needs of individual communities.
Patty says that if there’s one thing she could tell the customers of Entergy, it’s that, “Our success as a company is totally intertwined with the success and vitality of the communities that we serve. And we are invested in giving back and helping the communities we serve to succeed.”