Client Story: Georgia
Jana Ngugi our program director and I (Michael Hundelt Associate Director) dropped off a space heater and some warm blankets to one of our favorite long-time clients, Georgia, on a cold and rainy November afternoon. While there we were able to ask her a few questions about her experiences with EnergyCare services. A full video of this interview can be found on the front page of our new website; EnergyCare.org.
Born in Holly Springs Mississippi, near the Mississippi Delta, an area that was developed by European Americans for cotton plantations and was dependent on enslaved Africans. Georgia arrived in Saint Louis at the age of 5. Her parents were direct decedents of freed slaves who moved north in search of a better life. Georgia grew up in Saint Louis and has lived in her current home going on 28 years. She worked as a lunch lady at a local school until the school was shut down. She got cancer shortly thereafter which took her ability to walk and work. These days at 67 years old she helps care for her mother who is in a state-run senior home facility.
I asked her if after so many years of work, did she get a pension or retirement after the school was shut down. She responded that they got their saved vacation pay and that was it. During that time the vast majority of people fled the city for the county where they built new schools. Georgia was abandoned and stuck in the city like many others like her, unable to flee the city due to financial, health, and segregation reasons. This is the origin of the need here in Saint Louis. This is the backstory of most of our clients.
Was Georgia salty about her raw deal? Nope, all she could say is that "it always could be worse, and we get what we get, no point complaining about". I went on to ask her about the effects of the weatherization services she has received from EnergyCare staff and volunteers over the last few years. She commented that her front room that her bed is located in was always cold, and after the vinyl was applied to her old windows she felt immediate results and was able to sleep through the night in comfort.
Additionally, she mentioned the $20-month savings she sees on average on her monthly utility bills, which allows her to buy medications and food that she wasn't able to afford prior. Jana and I got big hugs as we headed out, feeling humbled by Georgia's story and outlook on life. On the ride back to the office Jana reflected on Georgia’s complement about her ability to get back to every client that leaves a message. She needed that recognition, this work can feel like a thankless endeavor at times. We both found new resolve in what we do.
Volunteering with EnergyCare: Weatherization
Your day starts by meeting up with your group at the EnergyCare HQ, 4200 Delor, St. John the Baptist Church compound. After finding parking and the Parish Center you will see the EnergyCare sign in the second-floor window. Heading up the stairs to the training room you will be met by one of the staff in charge of volunteer activities, which is either Jana, Jonathan, or Tim. You will be directed to the training room where Jana or Johnathan will present the plastic vinyl window insulation installation process. This process is very simple and the tutorial will last approximately 15 minutes.
The next step is gathering the weatherization materials and driving to the client's home. Once at the home the home-owner will likely be there to assist in moving things to make the work more accessible. The majority of EnergyCare’s clients are women (65%), most are African American (60%) and are living in poverty.They represent some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. A majority of EnergyCare’s clients live in north St. Louis and parts of south St. Louis.
The team leader will assign each window and job to each volunteer. The work then commences. The work doesn't stop until all the windows have been sealed up with the vinyl. Usually, your team will seal up to two homes in a day. The approximate time required per home varies depending on the number of windows, but typically you are in and out within a couple of hours.
Energy insecurity (EI) reflects an inability to adequately meet basic household heating, cooling, and energy needs. EI is a pervasive and often-overlooked problem for low-income people especially older adults. The homes you will be working on are typically older brick homes with the original windows installed. This means the paint could be flaking off, the window frame could be loose, and there might be cracks or bullet holes in the actual window pane. The caulk and vinyl provided will temporarily solve these issues for the client.
The team gets a group picture outside the house once the work has been completed. You might have broken a sweat putting up the vinyl. The most rewarding thing about weatherizing a home is how good you feel afterward. Getting a good workout in while providing a needed practical service to people that truly need and appreciate your help.
Hope this experience piece helps you and your group better understand what is involved in an EnergyCare weatherization volunteer activity. We truly couldn't do what we do without the help of the many volunteers that donate their time year after year. So, on behalf of the EnergyCare Staff and Clients, thank you for helping out.