Experiencing Winter Blitz

This weekend I was a team leader for Winter Blitz. As a first-year, I was surprised that Williams would let me lead, so it was especially fun and exciting for me. All I had to do was wake up early to learn the tools of the trade, which were surprisingly simple. I wanted to do Winter Blitz initially because I believe that every home should try to conserve as much energy as possible and because I wanted to give back to the community around Williams. Moreover, team leaders got doughnuts, coffee and a free t-shirt. My entrymate and friend brought it up in a conversation one Sunday, and we decided to be co-team leaders, gallantly leading our fellow entrymates into a stranger’s house.

After training in the morning and gathering up our team, we took off to North Adams. We only got lost twice and made it to the house only 10 minutes after MapQuest said we would. The house was obviously under construction, and we weren’t sure how much work we were going to be in for. But walking into the house and feeling the draft, we decided to split up our team and do everything we had the supplies for.

As we started sealing windows and caulking up cracks and holes, we learned more and more about the family we were helping. The woman who had first met us at the door had a newborn baby, who slept in the room next to us for an hour. The house was ancient and was being redone so that the new family would have a great home. Meeting the family we were helping only made me enjoy the work we did more, knowing that the window we sealed would stop a brisk Massachusetts winter from waking the baby.

Our team did fast work, except for one pair of window sealers, whom I now realize should’ve never been paired together. My co-leader and I were pretty proud of ourselves, even as we emerged from the basement completely covered in dirt.

I believe the work we did for that family was extremely important. It helped a busy mother prepare her house for her week-old son. It will show the family that being energy efficient isn’t as difficult as they thought. In addition, even after a few months here at Williams, and being at a few lectures with some of the townspeople, I’m not sure how well Williams connects with the surrounding community. Projects like this show Williamstown and North Adams that Williams isn’t just a fancy institution with unreasonable ideas. It allows our neighbors to both connect with us and to connect with our ideals.

Being “green” can be thought of as an elitist ideal and a kind of lifestyle that ordinary households could never support. But, as recent lecturer David Orr put it, most of the resistance to this kind of movement exists in people’s “inertia” or their reluctance to change from their daily routine. Through Winter Blitz, we could show many different families in the area that being energy efficient has many benefits and is easy to do. Being energy efficient not only lessens the U.S. “energy crisis” and its attached problems (foreign dependence, horrendous debt, environmental disaster), but it is fiscally responsible and winter-friendly.

Doing the work, though, I wondered if Williams dorms were “energy-efficient.” Even though the Williams “green rating” is pretty high, I wonder if Williams is doing everything it could to contribute to solving the energy crisis and positively affect the environment. One idea that I’m excited for is the plan for a green dorm. The Thursday Night Group has been working out plans for it, which would include many technologies aimed at low-energy use and having a small to nonexistent carbon footprint, and would help Williams students to live in an environmentally friendly way.

Winter Blitz taught my teammates and me some ways to spruce up our houses, and my parents have already told me that I’m going to have some extra chores over Thanksgiving break. The families we helped learned that it’s pretty easy to lower energy use. But college students, or those who live in dorms, have very little attachment to their energy use. The “Do it in the Dark” program is a pretty great idea, but besides turning off the lights, college students aren’t aware of how they are using energy. I include myself in this, and as I look around my dorm room I see at least three items that could be unplugged. An “eco-dorm” could teach students how they are using energy and would reduce the Williams footprint substantially. Williams makes many efforts to be environmentally friendly, and programs like Winter Blitz and “Do it in the Dark” along with the Zilkha Center make it obvious that it is one of the most proactive institutions on this front. However, we can always improve.