Get Out and Give Back: Dedicate to Insulate

by WL Author

Help insulate a low-income family’s home and save them up to 30% off their next utility bill.
By Jane Hess Collins

AmeriCorps members Dorothy Shepard and Ryan Baesten, assigned to Rebuilding Together Alexandria, stayed warm by hauling these heavy bags to dozens of apartments.

Baby, it’s cold outside! The morning that Rebuilding Together Alexandria (RTA) asked volunteers to help winterize low-income homes for Energize Alexandria, it was 39 degrees outside-and felt like 19 degrees.

Dozens of us huddled in our fleece jackets, blowing into our gloves and waiting for RTA, to set up our team assignments and dispatch us among 95 homes to perform basic, do-it-yourself winterizing projects. Now in its sixth year, RTA partnered with ECO City Alexandria, Honeywell, Lowes, Sears and Washington Gas, who brought a monster group of volunteers, to provide free energy-efficiency upgrades for the area’s low-income, elderly and veterans.

RTA’s executive director Katherine Medina, Alexandria’s Vice Mayor Kerry Donley and Washington Gas President and Chief Operating Officer Adrian Chapman each made a few brief (thank you!) remarks to the sea of volunteer humanity, most of whom were wearing “Energize Alexandria” T-shirts over their jackets. Proper insulation, according to Chapman, can save a homeowner or renter up to 30% on utilities-savings that can go directly to other necessities like food and healthcare.

The volunteers were divided into six teams. My husband Mike, who came with me that cold morning (on his birthday, no less!) and I were paired with Nina and Iris, a mother and daughter team from Fairfax. We received the addresses of four nearby apartments and a garbage bag full of winterizing kits for four apartment homes. Each kit contained insulated outlet and switch plates, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, a door sweep, weather-stripping and Great Stuff insulating spray foam for insulating the pipes under the sinks in the bathroom and kitchen.

Thankfully we also received detailed instructions, since I had absolutely no idea, aside from screwing in the CFLs, what to do with any of that stuff.

Nina and Iris headed off to one of the apartments while Mike and I headed to Apartment 101. Jose, who lived in the apartment with his mother, had a tool kit the size of a Smart Car sitting in the middle of his living room. He helped us out with the modifications and seemed to enjoy being part of it.

As it turned out, the punch list that RTA gave us went by rather quickly since Jose’s apartment had inside doors, new windows and no outside plugs. I installed the CFLs to feel productive more than anything else, and used half a can of Great Stuff under his bathroom sink.

One day Jose will thank me for that.

Mike Collins spent his birthday morning weather-stripping doors for RTA's Energize Alexandria.

We finished caulking and weather-stripping and caught up with Nina and Iris, who had finished winterizing their two apartments, and walked en masse to our final home. Strangely, we heard the tenants talking inside after we knocked but they didn’t open the door.

RTA had dozens of bags filled with energy-saving supplies and tips, and the four of us distributed them to the homes that weren’t on the winterize schedule.

We were done inside of two hours, knowing that we had helped reduce a few folks’ energy bills before 10 a.m.

If you’re sorry you missed this opportunity, fear not! National Rebuilding Day (formerly known as Christmas in April) is the big spring event for Rebuilding Together and happens in 200 locations across the country. Meantime, RTA is always on the lookout for handymen, electricians, plumbers and carpenters.

And on that note, happy holidays and warm holiday wishes to each of you!

Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.

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