Lindsay Mower – Staff Reporter
This year UMF has served as a host site for a team of AmeriCorps volunteers, made up of both past and present students, advocating for energy efficiency on campus and in the community. UMF Alum Vanessa Berry and Ben Rodriguez are part of the volunteer team who have been preparing for a few events AmeriCorps will be hosting in January.
According to Berry, Energy Efficiency Coordinator, the first event being held is a community energy forum and will be taking place on January 20th, with the location still to be announced. “It’s going to be informative for homeowners… mostly just giving educational materials that can help get people connected with local businesses and resources within the community,” said Berry.
The second event takes place the first Saturday after students return from break on January 27th from 9am to 1pm in the North Dining Hall. The AmeriCorps team will be partnering with United Way to build weatherizing window panels that will be installed in the homes of low-income families in Franklin County in effort to reduce fuel costs and making home more energy efficient as the winter approaches.
“It’s a four hour session, about three hours of it is actual work, and then the last hour is tear down and free potluck dinner,” said Berry. “A few off campus commuter students will be receiving these panels, and helping build them, so there are a lot of stakeholders involved in this project… On average, each window panel insert installed per home saves a save a gallon of oil a season, per square foot of panel.”
Rodriguez, Energy Efficiency Community Specialist, says he particularly enjoys the window building sessions. “They are just a great way to engage with the wider community. You see participants who are just volunteering their time, and you also have individuals who are receiving these panels attending the building sessions. It’s great to be able to work alongside everyone and then sit down and have a meal with them.”
The final event planned will take place Monday the 29th from 4pm to 8pm, also in the North Dining Hall. Berry says the AmeriCorps team planned this event in hopes that students and faculty who are done with their classes for the day will be able to participate. Dinner will be included for this event as well. “It is a great event for anyone interested in getting service hours,” said Berry.
Thanks to a grant written by Maine Campus Compact, who started an initiative under the Maine Partnership for Environmental Stewardship, creating six hosts sites, including UMF, to carry out services like those provided by this volunteer team, Berry says she feels she is able to make a more personal impact in her community. “The way we doing things is really site specific because we have different communities with different environments and people who all have different needs and finances to work with, who all can use support from the services we provide,” said Berry.
“We’ve also got a great network at UMF and they have been really supportive,” says Berry. “An example of that is just this week we were tabling to get donations to supply kits for low income families who are receiving our window panels for free, but we didn’t have any money in out grant to supply any other weatherization supplies, things like caulking guns and weather stripping… just the small stuff that creates a big change in the comfort of somebody’s home. Just from asking students for pocket change, we came up with almost $70 yesterday, and today a little of $87. The general support from the Farmington community in order to get projects done, is overwhelming.”
Berry graduated from UMF with an education degree in December of 2015 and was also a member of the Sustainable Campus Coalition for three years where she worked with Luke Kellett, the host site supervisor for AmeriCorps at UMF, before taking on this full-time position.
Rodriguez, quarter-time AmeriCorps volunteer, graduated from UMF with a History major and a minor in International Global Studies, “I know there isn’t exactly a correlation between my major and sustainability, but after graduating I just wanted to find a way to further engage with this community, that I really fell in love with for the four years that I was here,” said Rodriguez.
“I was a teacher’s assistant for an English 100 class, I was a tutor for the 21st Century Program, and I also was an archival assistant through the Partnership for Civic Advanced for the Temple Historical Society. Making those connections within the community and being able to reach out to the same people to help bring awareness to what were are trying to do with our initiative is what I love about this opportunity.” said Rodriguez. “I’ve always wanted to do environmental education and this is a really good way to kind of fill the deficit that I felt that I had in terms of experience with environmental work.”
The AmeriCorps volunteer team also works to help students and community members practice sustainability and energy efficiency in other ways. “We do campus and community audits, basically doing a consultation with families in their homes, and college students in their dorms and talks about ways to be more energy efficient,” says Berry. “We also do a an energy revamp challenge, a campus wide contest to encourage more students to reduce their energy use and offer incentives to do so.”
The efforts of the AmeriCorps volunteers amplify other energy efficiency efforts taking place in Farmington. “We have the biomass central heating plant, which is also a great educational piece that we will also try to become more involved with, including the solar panels that are to be installed, which will also be a really great educational resource that we will have right here in Farmington… We would love to get involved with spreading knowledge about the installation. If we aren’t exploiting it, then it’s kind of a waste… It’s going to put Farmington of the map in terms of sustainability. People are going to drive into Farmington and they are going to see all of the solar panels.”