Last week, I ventured deep into Eastern Montana to Ashland where the rolling hills are seemingly endless and the sky is bigger than ever. Every year, Americorps and its many programs recognizes MLK day as a national day of service and, in that spirit, our Energy Corps program organized a light weatherization project in Ashland and the surrounding Cheyenne reservation lands.
I had the opportunity to put together and present a short lesson on home energy efficiency and conservation with the help of other Energy Corps members. The tips and tricks we discussed were meant to be simple changes with noticeable impacts. It is easy to glance at your energy bill once a month, but it’s a whole other step to think critically about what is causing those energy spikes and how. Beginning to think about energy use in this way can often spark a continued commitment to creating a more sustainable lifestyle. (Find out how you can start saving in your home!)
Following the presentation, we spent two days visiting homes and installing basic materials meant to make the home more comfortable during the cold winter months. We were able to offer window plastic and metal door weatherstripping to minimize cold drafts, insulation blankets for water heaters, LED light bulbs, outlet gaskets, and water conservation fixtures. Though these offerings felt pretty minimal compared to what the homes really needed, it gave us the opportunity to learn about the families and history that make up these communities.
I met a woman whose home burnt down in the Ash Creek Fire during the summer of 2012. We were sent to weatherize the FEMA trailer she now shares with her husband and five grandchildren. She shared with us the pain of losing the first real home her grandchildren had after spending five years in foster care and the frustration with inadequacy of their now permanent living situation. What she really needed was insulation in the walls of the trailer, a new door that fit the frame, or in an ideal world… a new home. Even through all of this, she was bursting with pride and joy when she told us her oldest grandson was just accepted to MSU where he hopes to study social work. A truly remarkable and resilient family.
We had close to 40 community members attend our energy efficiency and conservation lesson on Tuesday morning, and as a team, we were able to weatherize 28 homes. Our efforts only scratched the surface of what that community really needs, but it reminded me all we have to be grateful for. Today, I am grateful I had the opportunity to share my knowledge with people who can use and benefit from it. I am grateful for the families who welcomed us into their homes and shared their stories. I am also grateful I got to enjoy sunny, 45 degree weather and pet LOTS of puppies last week.