Tucson Electric Power employees collectively log more than 10,000 volunteer hours each year to support local nonprofit groups. Their contributions make them part of our Community Action Team, or CAT, and reflect our longstanding commitment to give back to our community.
Of course, every team has its MVPs. In 2022, our CAT superstars included three employees who each logged more than 500 hours as volunteer coaches for youth sports teams. That’s the equivalent of a quarter of a full-time job or more than 10 hours a week.
For reaching that achievement, each earned a $500 contribution from TEP to their sports team through our Dollars for Doers program. Here’s what drives these all-star employees to spend so much of their free time supporting young athletes.
Todd Corneli, Journeyman Auto Mechanic, Fleet Services
Imagine the challenge of coaching giggly and wiggly preschoolers in tee-ball and basketball. That was the daunting task facing Todd Corneli and his wife, Crystal, in 2021 when no other parents stepped up to serve as coaches for their Tucson’s National Youth Sports teams.
“Trying to teach the basics and rules to 20 plus kids is like herding cats,” laughed Corneli, a Journeyman Auto Mechanic in TEP’s Fleet Services. “You need to wrangle them in. They all want to play all positions and they all run after the ball. It takes about a year to get the kids to follow the game rules and play individual positions.”
The Cornelis both played sports before but had never coached. They wanted their 3-year-old daughter to release some energy, make new friends and learn teamwork, so they signed her up for tee-ball. When no one else volunteered to coach, they decided to serve as co-coaches for tee-ball and basketball for co-ed 3–5-year-olds.
How do they keep the kids focused? “Kids are so smart. You start with the basics. Even if you only have a couple kids who understand, the others will follow them. It’s also a lot of repetition with running bases and throwing the ball,” he said.
The Cornelis coach tee-ball in winter, spring and fall, and indoor basketball in the summer. Besides weekday practices and sometimes back-to-back games on weekends, many hours are spent putting together rosters and schedules, setting up before practices and packing up afterwards. They also plan special activities for the kids.
“We try to keep it fun,” Corneli said. “We might have water squirt guns and water balloons, silly string or another fun activity at the end of practice to keep them engaged and excited about playing. Everything we do is for the kids.” At the end of each season, the Cornelis make a collage of photos for each child as a memento.
Corneli said their reward for investing their time coaching is the reaction they get from the youngsters.
“We have a lot of returning players and parents who ask for us as their coach. I enjoy seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they get a good hit or make a basket. They’re so elated with their accomplishment,” he said. “But the best part is when we see a current or former player on our team, and they come running up to us yelling, ‘Coach!’ and then give us a big hug. That’s the best feeling in the world.”
Greg Marsh, Senior Material Specialist
Nothing gives Greg Marsh greater satisfaction as a coach than seeing the young athletes on his softball team grow and develop.
“It’s worth giving back to our children,” he said. “They learn many valuable life lessons that will serve them well as adults, such as teamwork, sportsmanship and accepting loss with grace. We instill in them that doing their best is what really counts.”
For the past two years, Marsh has served as assistant coach for his daughter’s softball team, Impulse Neilson. He’s always coached his teen children in their sports and enjoys spending time with them. A lot of time, as it happens.
Coaching the team involves practice two days a week for three hours on off-tournament weeks and three hours on Saturdays. Plus, twice a month, the team travels for tournaments in Arizona and other states. His volunteer hours add up quick – and so do expenses.
Marsh said he and his entire team are grateful for TEP’s support. “Our team holds fundraisers to help with travel costs for hotels and meals, which gets expensive for families. I know our family doesn’t take vacations anymore. TEP’s donation for my volunteerism goes directly to the team to help pay our expenses and it’s so appreciated.”
Marsh said it’s rewarding to see the players’ skills develop. “All these girls aspire to go to college. Being on this team helps them get exposure and be recruited for college teams. I’ve gotten to know these girls and they are all such hard workers. I enjoy seeing how far they can take their potential.”
Melissa Puig, Processing Support Specialist, Electric Repair & Test Facility
Softball has been a huge part of Melissa Puig’s life and her passion for as long as she can remember.
“I grew up watching my dad play men’s fastpitch and I absolutely fell in love with softball,” she recalls. “I also played women’s AA fastpitch and had the opportunity to play at Pima Community College. I have coached my daughter’s softball team since 2016 when she was eight, and I’ve been a softball coach even before I had my daughter.”
When Puig and her teen daughter were invited to join a new team that was forming in 2021, she happily agreed to serve as assistant/catcher’s coach.
The team for girls 14 years and under plays year-round with a grueling weekly practice schedule and far-flung tournaments that often take them throughout the state and southwest. If her life wasn’t full enough, her son is involved in boxing and cross country.
“My weekends are usually slammed,” she said. “To stay on top of household chores, I do laundry at night, use the crock pot a lot and plan simple meals. Needless to say, quick meal preps are a necessity at our house.”
Besides getting to spend time with her daughter, she’s helping to instill her passion for the sport with a new generation.
“Truly, the most rewarding part of coaching for me is watching the players grow into wonderful young student athletes. I absolutely love coaching,” Puig said. “I grew up playing ball and it’s been a part of my life for so long that I don’t know anything different.”