Students winterize local homes

One hundred and twenty-six students and community members participated in the Winter Blitz project this Saturday in which volunteers weatherized local homes for the winter.
The project has annually provided energy-saving services to the community but on a much smaller scale. It was expanded this year to help Berkshire residents cut utility costs while promoting sustainability.

Madeline King ’11, an intern for the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and the Take Charge environmental campaign in North Adams, and Jen Rowe ’11 led the Thursday Night Grassroots project committee. Since mid-September, they have worked closely with Stewart Burns, director of CCE and project supervisor, to plan the event. Laura Christianson ’11 served as a liaison to the Lehman Council to help advertise it.

The event divided the volunteers into 17 teams of varying size who visited a total of 43 homes in Williamstown, North Adams and Adams, Mass. Burns helped to coordinate which homes the volunteers would visit according to lists that Marie Harpin, leader of the Northern Berkshire Community Action Council, compiled. “With the economy the way it is, and the pays and benefits being so low, people don’t have enough money to go from one thing to the next,” Harpin said. “By helping these families weatherize their homes, we’re helping to cut their expenses.”

Tasks for the College’s organizational leaders included calling members from the fuel assistance lists to make sure they wanted weatherization help, labeling maps and printing directions for all of the groups. Of the 97 students who signed up, 11 volunteered to be team leaders. Five residents of local towns also led groups, and ten to 15 students from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) volunteered. Stephanie Boyd, acting director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, and Rick Spalding, College Chaplain, also participated.

The volunteers provided basic weatherization which entailed the placing of plastic over windows to block airflow, caulking, winter stripping around doors and windows and installing insulation for pipes leading to and from hot water heaters. “Even though they weren’t drastic changes, it felt like we made a difference. It was nice to work with community members and get off campus,” said Lauren McDonald ’12.

The volunteers met on Saturday morning and worked well into the afternoon before ending the day with a pizza party at the Log. Many individual volunteers signed up, but there was also an impressive response from entries, teams and orientation groups who used Winter Blitz as a chance to show collective support. “I really wanted this to be a bigger community service project to get a lot of different people involved. I think that’s the thing I’m happiest about – [we got] a really big cross-section of students,” King said.

Harpin believes the event was successful in generating student interest in sustainability and community engagement. “For a student to see these situations firsthand and get involved at an early age is great. They can carry that experience through their work career, and no one can take it away from them when they go out into their own community,” she said.