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November 10, 2023 25 mins
We chat with our friends at ComEd regarding about their ComEd customer support programs. We also have a discussion with Benjamin Gould, Chicago Chapter Director of Blue Star Families about Welcome Week 2023. Paulina also chats Steve and Sheila Conner, Co-Founders of Heph Foundation.
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Episode Transcript

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(00:00):
Hello, and welcome to the weeklyshow here on iHeartRadio at ninety three to
nine, Light FM, one ofthree five Kiss FM, and Rock ninety
five to five. I'm Paulina,and every single week we're here to discuss
a variety of topics that matter toChicagoland, from health, educations, and
finances and so much more. Welove chatting with all of you who are
making differences right here in our cityand our suburbs too, So thank you

(00:22):
all for tuning in and thank youfor always being a part of the weekly
show. Today I am talking withour friends at Commet. We are talking
about the Commat customer support programs thatare available to you now, and of
course those programs that you may beeligible for, so you want to stick
around for that as well. I'llbe chatting with Blue Star Families, which
is a veteran organization here in Chicago. We'll be chatting about Blue Star Welcome

(00:46):
Week twenty twenty three happening September twentythree until October first. And I'll be
chatting with Sheila Connor from the HeFoundation. We'll be chatting all about their
newest initiative in the program and allof the good stuff you cannot miss.
So let's kick off the show.Hi, It's Paulina here with iHeartMedia Chicago

(01:07):
and today I'm chatting with Arian Smith, manage your customer Financial Assistance of Commat.
How are you? I am doingwell, Pauline? How are you?
I'm doing so well? Thank youfor joining us today. We are
talking to one of the I wouldsay legends of Chicago in the Chicago Land
area. Because I am myself aCommat customer, so it's pretty cool to
be able to chat with you guys, and then as well to be able

(01:30):
to talk about your customer support programsso important. So first and foremost,
do you mind telling us a littlebit about yourself and then your role as
well? Sure? Again, myname is Arian Smith. I am a
manager of Customer Financial Assistance and soI've been with the company up for almost
twelve years at this point, andthis particular role has been one of my

(01:51):
favorites because we do get to dosome great work with serving our families and
communities in Chicagoland area. That isamazing. Yes, And like I said,
I mean, it's it's awesome tobe able to chat with you because
I'm sure so many families are reallyjust feeling the impacts of what's been going
on just in you know, theirown financial world, right, And yeah,

(02:13):
it's it's been. It's been roughsome days, you know, and
some some months. I feel likeare better than others. But you know,
I think a lot of us,truly, if we're being transparent,
are living in a time of whetherit's just the you know, the impact
of inflation, or it's just otheryou know, financial issues or stuff that's
happening within their own lives and families. So I think it's really awesome to
me to talk to you and youknow, kind of being able to provide

(02:37):
answers and clarity and being able toprovide support programs to uh, you know,
Chicago. So first and foremost,can you tell us a little bit
about some of your commat customer supportprograms. Absolutely, so, we do
have an rate of our programs available. And to start, we do have
our most long standing program, whichis our Love Hate Program also known as

(03:01):
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,and this is an Illinois program which is
federal and state funded that provide customerswith one time grants per program year with
no payback require and these grants arebased on household and income size that to
qualify for this particular program, ahousehold's annual income cannot exceed the two hundred

(03:23):
percent of the Federal Poverty income guidelines, which for example, a family of
four that is about four thousand,six hundred and twenty five dollars a month.
This program is available to homeowners,renters, and subsidized housing tenants and
so they are eligible to apply andcustomers do not have to be behind on

(03:43):
their bills to receive a grant forthis actual program year, the funding will
be made available on a staggered basis. SOLIP will start October seconds and for
the month of October second, householdswith seniors six years of age, older
disabled individuals, and children under theage of six can apply for this program.

(04:05):
Then in November first, households thathave had energy service disconnected or have
received a disconnection noticed in our imminentdisconnection status can apply for this program.
And lastly, by December first,all other households are eligible to apply for
life. That's amazing. So forthis specific assistance program, where can we

(04:27):
I know we're going to talk aboutthis too towards the end of our interview,
but where can we head over toapply for that so that everybody can
be ready to go. Yes,there's a lot of programs and offerings available.
So to make things easier for customersto find and sold out through all
of these options, Comment offers whatwe call a Smart Assistance Manager also known
as SAM and so this is aweb website which is web based and available

(04:48):
at Comment dot com slash SAM.They will search through the bill assistance and
energy savings programs Comment has to offer. It'll provide customers with a list of
programs that they may be eligible for, and this also includes links and other
information to apply. Customers can alsovisit Comment dot com slash Payment Assistance be

(05:08):
beautiful. Yes, and for thosewho are just tuning in and joining us
on the show, we will repeatall this information at the end, So
don't worry. You just want toput that out there as well. So
moving on and moving forward, Whatabout the supplemental Arrange Reduction program? If
I said that correctly, can wetalk about that one as well? Sure,
this program is near and dear tome. This is Comment Supplemental Orriage

(05:30):
Reduction Program also known as SARP.So. Comment was the first utility in
Illinois to launch this program and it'savailable available to comment residential customers who qualify
to receive lie Heap benefits. So, if a customer has received lie heap
and still have a past de balanceon their bill, they have the opportunity

(05:50):
to participate in this program if theyare eligible, which gives them the opportunity
to have stabilized monthly billing by enrollingin our budget billing program. And then
if they do pay that budget billingon time and in full, they can
actually receive a credit towards any balancethey came into the program with. That
is amazing. And then what aboutthe I've heard of this one and I've

(06:11):
seen it too, the Bill PaymentAssistance program? What is that? And
how can we qualify for that?Sure, this is a brand new program
for common We actually launched this programwith the organization Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago,
and so, through the Bill PaymentAssistance Program, qualified income eligible customers
with a household income of eighty percentof lusts of the eerie average median income

(06:34):
may receive a one time bill creditbetween one hundred and fifty dollars and five
hundred dollars. That grand amount isbased on the customer's account status and while
funding is available. Wonderful. Andwhat about payment arrangements? Yes, customers
who may have fallen behind on theirbill can request a payment arrangement if they

(06:54):
do qualify. So the payment arrangementscan allow customers to create a up to
twelve months with a pass due balance, and what they would do is make
a down payment on the amount owedand then pay the rest through installments in
addition to their monthly regular bill.Wonderful. So there's a lot of options
which I think our listeners are reallyhappy to hear about, and I think

(07:16):
that these are going to beneficial forso many residents here in Chicago. So
what about deposit and late payment chargewaivers? Tell us about it? Yes,
for sure. So there's another offeringfor customers that do qualify, call
the deposit and late payment charge Waivers, and for eligible customers, they will
not be assessed a deposit or latepayment fees for at least one year,

(07:38):
and any current deposit that has beenpaid will be returned. This offering doesn't
require for customers to be income eligible, so again they can visit comment dot
com Slash Payment Assistance to learn moreand to apply wonderful. And then what
about budget billing? Do you havethat or do you provide that? Yes,
we do have a program called budgetbilling which provides customers with a consistent,

(08:00):
predictable monthly amount do based on theirelectric usage for the past twelve months,
so their monthly bill is a standardbill amount for an extended period of
time. That amount is reviewed,so again it will determine the average usage
and bill amounts at that home,and that balance could actually stay the same,
go up or go down. Customerswill be notified in advance of any

(08:22):
changes of their budget billing amount,but again it gives them the opportunity and
the peace of mind to know whattheir monthly bill will be month over a
month. Absolutely, and then I'mreading here as well that there are due
date extensions of up to twenty onedays of a customer's due day, which
is pretty nice for those who couldpossibly use that as well. Absolutely,
so, if customers do contact commentand they qualify, they can request due

(08:46):
day extensions to give them more timeto pay their electric bill, and those
extensions could exceed up to twenty onedays of a customer's due day. Wonderful
to hear, and what about catchup and say is that a program as
well? Yes, Ketch Up andSave is a two part program that marries
the supplemental riage reduction program with freeenergy efficiency kits. So Ketch Up and

(09:09):
Save is again a two part programthat provides monthly credits to an eligible customer's
bill to eliminate past do balances,as well as offering a free energy savings
kit which includes home products designed tohelp lower home energy use while supplies last.
And this is to help families saveon future energy bills. Amazing.

(09:30):
And what about the Fresh Start services? Fresh Start Services is something that is
offered through our customer service representatives ifcustomers were to call in to come in.
So these services provide customers with bothonline and person and person assistance to
help customers become aware of and navigatethe options available to manage their bills and
energy use. So the csrs offercustomers tools that will alert them when their

(09:54):
energy use is trending higher than usualand help them be aware of financial distance
options they may be eligible for.Absolutely, and what about the high usage
alerts? Are those available for usso that we're able to kind of,
you know, just like on ourphones when we get any kind of alert.
Is it the same deal? Yes, very similar. So those high
usage alerts let customers know when theirusage is trending higher than normal to help

(10:18):
manage their overall use. And energymanagement tips to save money now and on
future deals beautiful. And then ourlast but not least, energy efficiency offerings.
What are those and where can weget them? Yes? So those
energy efficiency offerings are wider way ofservices and incentives that are designed for income
eligible residential customers, and these canhelp reduce energy use now and in the

(10:43):
future. And we also have ourCredit Empowerment program. This is a new
program Comment is offering and it providesone on one support to help individuals improve
their credit score. It's in collaborationwith an organization called Work and Credit,
and this program provides an overview ofhow the credit is and works. It
helps participants create a personalized credit actionplan to help them improve their specific credit

(11:05):
situations, and it provides information oncommed energy efficiency offerings to the customers that
will help the customer manage their energyuse and energy bills. Amazing, Well,
thank you so much for offering allof this, all these amazing tips
and on all the programs that commathas to offer. I think this is
so important. You want to makeit easier for customers to find and soort

(11:28):
through all these options. Right,and where can we again head over?
What's the website for more information andfor those to see if they do qualify
and are eligible for some of theseprograms? Where can we do that?
Yes? And so our web basedsite is again comment dot com slash slat.
Let me repeat that. The webbased site that customers can visit is
comment dot com slash SAM, whichis a smart assistance manager. Customers can

(11:54):
also visit comment dot com slash PaymentAssistance for more information on these programs.
Awesome, Thank you so much forbeing here with us today. We really
appreciate it, no problem, happyto be here. Thank you so much.
Hi. It's Paulina here with iHeartMediaChicago, and today I am chatting
with Steve Connor and Sheila Connor.Steve Connor is the founder of HEF and

(12:15):
Sheila Connor is the co founder ofHEF. How are you today? Hey?
How are you rad? How areyou? Thanks for having us,
of course, I'm very excited tohave you both on today. If you
don't mind just telling me the meetingbehind helf. You know, what is
the meaning and kind of how thiscame to be sure? Heaf is short
for Hephaestus, who was the Greekgod. He was actually a blacksmith and

(12:37):
he made tools for the gods.And he was also disabled, so you
know, we are we feel verystrongly about someone who was cast out but
still able to come back in andmake tools for the gods. Right,
it's a pretty fantastic story. Andhe made tools like Achilles armor, and

(12:58):
he made Hercules bronze clappers, andhe made you know, heliosis chariot and
arrows is bow and arrow, right, and oh no, I love that.
So then for you because you guyswork with primarily K through twelve right
as far as the angel angel goes, well, K to twelve and then

(13:18):
we also do workforce development. Yeah, we say actually K to the grave.
Learning the lifelong thing, right.You know, you have eighty year
olds who are graduating from high schooland graduating from college. So learning is
life long, right, and we'rehoping it's K to yeah, and great,
but K to succession is really whatwe try to say because we need

(13:41):
our businesses. Whatever is that webuild, whatever the business and services that
we build together that it needs tocontinue even past our active involvement, right,
so we're always building in the factthat we're going to create more more
people that are going to you know, continue on and you know, and
really just having for lifelong learning andthen lifelong business got you no, absolutely,

(14:05):
So then how would you describe youroutcomes? Right? What outcomes have
you achieved? How do you assessyour work? So just to step back
from that, we are in ourwork is in school, out of school,
after school, during out of schooltime, during summers and camps,

(14:26):
and it's both digital and hands on. So it's a blended program, right,
So it would be project based learningthat happens in class and if she'll
said, you know, after school, but then also at home, you
know, the learners take you know, everything home, it's all it's it's
all digital. We work through videogames, work with AI, so it's

(14:48):
it's we're always, uh, thelearners can always be in touch with the
with the program, and we're reallyproud of the outcomes that we've achieved.
So our work is assessed. Wedo pre and post assessments and then also
we work with independent agencies. Sorecently an independent study by Park School Board

(15:09):
found our programs get ninety five percentengagement and seventy five percent of the students
improveing their math and reading scores.And that's incredible. That is good to
know. And then as far aslike funding and everything, how are you
guys doing with that or where doyou receive most of that from? So
we're always fundraising, so you coulddefinitely we're nonprofits, always fundraising so that

(15:35):
we can have a deeper impact forour learners. So if there's anyone out
there who is interested in donating,just go to our website, right,
and the website specifically for you know, for this initiative is go dream Teams
and hit that donate button. Butwe're funded. We receive funding through grants,

(16:00):
individual grants and other foundations and thendonations from the public right and of
course schools pay for our service,they actually pay for and they purchase a
license to run the programs in theirclasses. Wow, no, that's incredible.
So what about like as far asfollowing you on social media? How

(16:22):
can we find you? I knowyou did mention where we can donate as
well? We can just hear thatone more time. Where can we do
that? Sure? You can goto go dream teams dot com and that
leads you right to our website andthat's actually the best place to kind of
be in touch with us as well. You can learn more information about what
we're doing, the programs that we'reoffering. Schools can learn about the curriculums

(16:48):
that are available for purchase and licensing, and then parents can also learn about
at home curriculums and video series thatwe offer. Right and if you wanted
to visit us on Instagram, youcould go to dream Teams go on Instagram.
Beautiful. Well, thank you somuch for being here with us today.
We appreciate you both and we willtalk to you again soon. Thanks

(17:12):
Polina, have a great one.Hi. It is Paulina here with iHeartMedia
Chicago and today I am chatting withBen Gould, Chicago Chapter director of the
Blue Star Families. How are youtoday? I'm doing well. Thank you
for having me. Of course,thanks for being here with us today.
We appreciate it. So it isofficially Blue Star Welcome Week twenty twenty three,

(17:33):
which is happening September twenty three throughOctober first, and I would love
for you to give us a littlebit of a background on a Blue Star
Families. Yeah, so, BlueStar Family is an organization that works with
military and veteran families throughout the country. As an organization, one of our
key initiatives is Blue Star Welcome Weekthat you mentioned about six hundred and thousand

(17:57):
military members and their families are movingto new communities each year, and Blue
Star Families established Welcome Week as away to help allow that transition to be
a little bit more easy, towelcome them to our communities through providing resources
and fun events where they'll be ableto meet other community members, gain resources

(18:22):
and knowledge of the communities that they'reliving and where they can come for things
that they need, and also meetneighbors who are hopefully going to be a
portion of a support system for them. I think moving generally to a new
community is always a challenge, butparticularly military families are often moving to places
where they don't know anyone, Theydon't have any real support in terms of

(18:45):
family or friends, have to themilitary spouse often has to find a new
job, and kids have to goto a new school. So there's just
a lot of challenges that come everytwo to three years that military families endure
and Blue Star Families is trying toease that burden at least providing a welcoming
and supportive environment for those communities.That's something that you don't even think of

(19:08):
because I have heard of, youknow, like active duty military families who
do move around a lot. Andyou're right, I honestly I never thought
of it that way as far asthe kids finding new school, right,
finding a sense of community, findinga new job if you're at the spouse
right, So that's really important.So you guys are doing amazing work and

(19:29):
I just didn't really, you know, ever think of it that way.
So I think that's so important.So for Blue Star Welcome Week twenty twenty
three, can you tell us kindof about what Welcome Week is? And
I know you have four events happeninghere in Chicago, right, so let's
talk about those. Yeah. Absolutely, And actually this initiative came about because

(19:51):
we run a Military Family Lifestyle Surveyevery year which tracks the difficulties that military
families go through on a year toyear basis, which we work with Syracuse
Unisity Institute for Military and Veteran Familieson and part of our surveys, which
usually reaches between eight and ten thousandmilitary and veteran family members each year,
said that only about a third ofmilitary families felt a sense of belonging in

(20:14):
the communities that they live in,and so that was one of the reasons
that we established this initiative specifically inChicago. We have some fun events tomorrow.
Actually on Saturday, we're going tobe doing a tour of the Field
Museum, and then on the nextTuesday, we'll have an outing to the

(20:36):
Chicago White Sox game against the ArizonaDiamondbacks. Then on Friday, we'll be
working with our friends at the Universityof Chicago Office of Military Family Affiliated Communities
where we'll have a welcome lunch toa lot of the new veteran students and
their families on campus, and thenare co hosting career and resource fair on

(20:57):
campus as well. And then ourlast and end event will be our Family
Bash at Forrestall School, which isout next to Naval Station Great Lakes and
is the most military connected school inthe Chicago land area, and we'll be
having a variety of activities and gamesand bouncy houses and also a resource fair

(21:18):
with other military service organizations in thecommunity that will have a table and be
able to provide resources and information toour new military families. Absolutely, so
it seems like, yes, avery packed, you know, a welcome
week, full of activities and obviouslysupporting you guys at Blue Star families.

(21:40):
So that's incredible. So why isthis week then so important for you guys
and for for everyone listening. Yeah, So oftentimes military families when they do
their permanent change of station or pcsing, often happens in the summer, So
we put this kind of at thatend of summer early fall as things are,

(22:03):
you know, people are going backto school and really establishing it is
a week that we can honor ourmilitary families that are coming to our new
communities coming to our state. Wehad a proclamation issuing Blue Star Welcome Week
from Governor Pritzker, from Mayor Johnson, and so we try to declare it

(22:26):
from a perspective of government, communityorganization, and trying to build relationships within
the communities where we're serving to reallyprovide a sense of belonging, a support
system, and a sense of welcomingto these military families who are dealing with
the difficulty of transitioning. And we'reputting together locally a welcoming committee where we'll

(22:49):
have military families. A lot ofthem are military spouses that have been in
the community for a few years andthey're gonna be paired up with a new
military family that is a ending oneof our events to hopefully sustain a relationship
going forward so they can have someoneat least that they are familiar with in
the community. Absolutely, Ben,thank you so much for all of this

(23:12):
insightful information. What is the websitefor the Blue Star Welcome Week twenty twenty
three? Where can we go formore information to get involved everything in between?
Where can we go for that?Yeah, so if you go to
our website as an organization, it'sblue starfam fam dot org and that's where

(23:34):
you can find a variety of informationabout our organization. And also you can
go to Blue Star welcomeweek dot orgto find a variety of information on our
organization. The events that are happeningthroughout the country, dozens and dozens events
and many different communities across our countryand even abroad. So those are the

(24:00):
best way is to find more information. Awesome, thank you so much for
being here with us today. Wereally appreciate it. My pleasure. Thank
you so much. Thank you somuch to our guests for joining me on
today's episode of the Weekly Show,and thank you for listening and for tuning
in to another edition. We alwaysplace this episode and all of our previous

(24:22):
episodes up on our iHeartRadio app.You can search for the Weekly Show right
there to catch up on all yourfavorite moments or if you missed anything as
well that happened throughout the weeks.And we're always looking to hear from you.
And if you want to be featuredon the show, or know someone
that should be featured, someone who'sdoing amazing things in our city and our
suburbs and for our community, pleasereach out to me Paulina at iHeartMedia dot

(24:48):
com and I will try to setup an interview to get you on the
Weekly Show as well. Thank youso much. Once again, you can
always search for us the Weekly Showon our free iheartapp. You can search
for us and please please contact medirectly if you would like to be featured
on the Weekly Show. Thanks forlistening, have an amazing week, and
we'll talk to you again next weekend. Stay safe, Chicago,
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