Students winterize community homes

Malcolm Doble of the Berkshire Community Action Council taught student leaders how to weatherize homes for Winter Blitz.
Malcolm Doble of the Berkshire Community Action Council taught student leaders how to weatherize homes for Winter Blitz.

One hundred forty volunteers gave up their time to weatherize 35 local homes on Saturday as part of the second annual Winter Blitz. The event started as a community service project run by the Center for Community Engagement in which, from 2003-2007, small numbers of volunteers went out to weatherize homes over several weekends each year. It was condensed into a single-day event for the first time last year, when it attracted 120 volunteers.

This year, the event was organized by the Thursday Night Group, a student-led environmental club, with financial support and advice from Lehman Council, the Center for Community Engagement and the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.

According to Madeline King ’11, who coordinated the project together with Jen Rowe ’11, this year’s Winter Blitz received the same amount of funding as last year but sought to use the money to ensure the event’s continuity by buying tools and other reusable materials.

The Office of Campus Life and the College Council Co-Sponsorship Fund provided additional funding for the event, as well as the off-campus organizations Take Charge, a part of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, and the Center for Ecological Technology, a local non-profit.

Twenty-eight teams of four students each weatherized one or two homes, and were each provided with the necessary supplies, along with a trained student leader. Among other energy-saving activities, students insulated doors, installed storm windows, and filled in cracks in the walls of homes across the local area.

While most of the volunteers were students, five faculty members participated, along with students from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and a small cohort of community members.

King was delighted with the success of the event. “The student turnout was amazing and I’m just so happy that we were able to make Winter Blitz a success for the second year in a row,” she said, offering praise to those who volunteered. “The number of students who stepped up and showed leadership in the planning process and as team leaders truly made this possible.”

According to King, the event’s main purpose is to assist members of the local community, from Williamstown and North Adams, who need assistance in winterizing their homes before the onset of the cold. The Winter Blitz organizers worked with the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Community Action Council in targeting homeowners in need, who were selected on the basis of their eligibility for low-income fuel assistance.

Alongside its community service aspect, the event also had clear environmental dimensions, given that better insulation enables homeowners to use less heat, and thereby burn fewer fossil fuels. “[Winter Blitz] inspires all of us to be more involved with . . . grassroots efforts to fight climate change,” said Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center.

Boyd also noted the importance of the program in terms of nurturing the next generation of community leaders and activists, environmental or otherwise. “The students involved learn a great deal about the challenges involved in organizing a community-based effort,” she said. “The leaders in particular are juggling schedules, recruiting volunteers, sourcing materials and coordinating efforts from a number of local agencies.”

Indeed, for many students, the event was made memorable due to the interaction with the community that participation entailed. “[Winter Blitz] is a great way to spend a Saturday [because it’s] valuable to get to know people outside the purple bubble,” said Chandler Sherman ’11, who also took part in the event last year.

Christine Hulsizer ’13 also noted the importance of understanding and helping alleviate some of the difficulties faced by residents in the local area. “It was cool to give back to the community and have a positive impact on people’s lives,” she said.

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