On Saturday, November 12th, students participated in Winter Blitz, the Zilkha Center’s yearly community outreach weatherization program. As the program overview states, “Trained volunteers install basic window kits, door sweeps, and energy-efficient light bulbs. They also seal up cracks around doors and windows in homes, that untreated would result in heat loss, which drives up energy costs and requires more energy use. Weatherizing homes saves money and energy for the residents and contributes to broader energy conservation efforts. It also helps foster connections between students and local residents.” Students offer a variety of services free of charge that improve the sustainability, cost effectiveness, and comfort of participants’ homes, including the installation of door and window weatherstrips, door sweeps, outlet gaskets, window cover kits, caulking, foam spray, hot water pipe insulation, low flow aerators, low flow showerheads, and LED bulbs. Since 2008, Williams students have volunteered to weatherize approximately 25 local homes per year. Weatherization can make a structure more efficient and therefore more sustainable by significantly lowering its greenhouse gas emissions.
This year, Miranda Villanueva ‘18, Carol Almonte ‘19, and Divya Sampath ‘18 co-directed the program. The student directors worked with Zilkha Center Assistant Director Mike Evans and the Winter Blitz Planning Committee to recruit homeowners and find out their needs, recruit student volunteers, and meet with other colleges to coordinate efforts. This year, more than 80 Williams students volunteered to weatherize homes in Pownal, North Adams, Adams, Lanesborough, and Williamstown, while another 25 Bennington College students weatherized homes in Bennington. The Zilkha Center advertises to community members through churches, fliers, the Berkshire Immigrant Center (BIC), the Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC), and word of mouth. Community members who would like to both lower their energy costs and cannot weatherize on their own are especially encouraged to sign up.This year, the Center also reached out to College staff, an effort which it hopes to expand in future years.
On Saturday morning, the directors prepped supplies on Paresky lawn and held a 9 am training for group leaders at Hardy House (the directors learned weatherization skills through an earlier training with the Center for EcoTechnology [CET], a nonprofit that partners with the Zilkha Center for Winter Blitz). Student group leaders are point people for each weatherization team who handle supplies and guide their peers as they work. The directors then checked in the rest of the volunteers when they arrived at 10 am, gave them their Winter Blitz T-shirts, and sent them off in vans. They stayed behind on campus, fielding calls from team leaders with construction questions and sending teams to new site until 2 am when all groups had returned.
Co-director Miranda Villanueva ‘18 says that she first participated in Winter Blitz as a freshman. Her team helped an elderly woman who was very happy to have others in her home and Villanueva says that she was excited for the opportunity to do community service work with an environmental component. She continued to work with the program as a member of the planning committee her sophomore year before becoming a co-director in her junior year.
This year, Villanueva said, she and her co-directors weren’t as excited because the yearly event fell immediately after the shocking 2016 presidential elections. One team leader, though, said something that Villanueva appreciated: “this gives me hope,” he said. “It gives me faith in humanity.” Sometimes getting out into the community and engaging directly is just what people need, Villanueva said. It made her feel better. Many students look forward to the event and its timing this year may have made it an even more powerful experience for participants.
Abby Rampone ’17 is a communications intern at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.