Sisters energized to help their neighbors, keep communities safe









By Courtney Mehus

Contributing Writer

Combined, Nicko Spehn and her sister Alicia Ellis have more than 57 years experience as employees of CenterPoint Energy, who respectively hold the positions of dispatching manager and supervisor of appliance services. These two sisters, working together, have helped shape multiple initiatives for CenterPoint Energy both in the office and in the community.

One of the most important programs that Spehn’s leadership has influenced is the Stay Safe, Stay Warm program. For the past five years she has been involved in organizing efforts which provide free heating system tune-ups to qualifying customers.

The Stay Safe, Stay Warm program has been around in one form or another for over 20 years. It is an important program CenterPoint Energy started to help customers in need in communities served by the company with the intent to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of customers’ heating equipment. With the goal of providing 1,000 free tune-ups and safety checks annually, the company hopes to improve the lives of others as well as help prevent known safety hazards, such as carbon monoxide poisoning that could occur without routine maintenance. Records show that with regular tune-ups, one-third fewer heating system breakdowns take place, keeping more families safe and comfortable with lower operating costs during the extreme Minnesota winters.

(l-r) Alicia Ellis and Nicko Spehn
(l-r) Alicia Ellis and Nicko Spehn

Other than Spehn’s efforts in the Stay Safe, Stay Warm program, she has been recognized for her work as a Minority Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) supplier, being honored by receiving the CenterPoint Energy Supplier Diversity Award.

“CenterPoint Energy has always been really good to me, so holding true to our company’s core values of safety, integrity, accountability, initiative and respect, and exhibiting them day in and day out is very important to me,” said Spehn. “When one exhibits these behaviors and values, people take notice and it is infectious.”

One day before she turned 19, Spehn started her career working in the front office and has since worked her way up in the company to positions such as:  development specialist, manager of Home Service Plus repair and maintenance services and now the position of gas dispatching manager. By demonstrating her core values every day, she was always given additional opportunities with increasing responsibilities.

“In my eyes, everything happened for a reason, and seeing where I am today, I am afforded this great opportunity to pay it forward and aid women and minority-owned businesses growth,” added Spehn.

Ellis is not a stranger to these values either. She has worked her way up as well, starting in credit collections, and then spending time in field operations and as a billing representative. She has now landed herself back in field operations with the role of supervisor of appliance services. She is happy to be back in that department.

“Home Service Plus in field operations is like a family. We’ve all known each other for a long time, and work well together in execution of the Stay Safe, Stay Warm program, keeping our customer’s families safe and warm,” said Ellis. “Just as we know each other, we know our customers and their needs. By working closely with my sister’s department, we can ensure safe and comfortable conditions for our customers who otherwise may not be able to afford these services. These are our neighborhoods, where we live and work. We have each other’s backs. This is home.”

Spehn and Ellis believe the most rewarding part of their jobs is being part of a company that is involved in the community and in helping others; giving them many proud moments.

“I have crossed paths with so many wonderful people along the way who have given me such amazing opportunities to make a difference,” said Spehn. “There really are a lot of great people surrounding these efforts.”

“Not only do these sisters devote themselves to programs that benefit our communities, but they also demonstrate a wealth of wisdom, optimism, and excellence both in their fields and to those around them,” added Jean Krause, Director of Community Relations for CenterPoint Energy. “Together, these two sisters exhibit the type of leadership that contributes to the strong, community-minded company that CenterPoint Energy is today.”


This article was written by Courtney Mehus, an intern at CenterPoint Energy.


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