Faces of the Recovery Act: National Weatherization Conference

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Faces of the Recovery Act: National Weatherization Conference
Personal stories from the 2009 National Weatherization Training Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Tony Gill, Dale Barth, TJ Bergeron, Zachary Stewart, Travis Sewall, Xavier Qualls, Richard Fransen
Energy Department Video

SAMMY CHU:  My name is Sammy Chu.  I’m the director of the Long Island Green Homes program in Babylon, New York.

LESLIE CAMPANELLA:  My name is Leslie Campanella, and I work for the California Department of Community Services and Development.

TRAVIS SEWELL:  Travis Sewell, weatherization director/coordinator.

DALE BARTH:  Dale Barth, Dickinson, North Dakota.

TONY GILL:  Tony Gill.  I’m actually from the state of Maine.  I’ve been involved in weatherization since 1981.

RICHARD FRANSEN:  I’m Richard Fransen.  I come from West Jordan, Utah.

STEVE LEUTY:  My name is Steve Leuty.  I work at Kalamazoo County, Michigan.

XAVIER QUALLS:  Xavier Qualls, Tampa Hills Action Plan, Tampa, Florida.

T.J. BERGERON:  I’m T.J. Bergeron.  I’m actually from Moorhead, Minnesota.

ZACHARY STEWART:  My name is Zachary Stewart, and I’m a energy engineering specialist as my job.

STAFF:  Tell me how you got started in weatherization.

MR. STEWART:  Well, I’ve been working in the residential construction industry in Phoenix for five years with a national home builder.  So I’ve been doing weatherization, in a way, not knowing it, but –

STAFF:  Right.

MR. STEWART:  Anyways, so the housing market in Phoenix, it went – it went down.  So I laid – was laid off in December 19th, 2008.  So right – a couple days before Christmas.  And so that was a real nice holiday.

MR. BERGERON:  Ran a handyman business for the last two or three years.  During the flood this spring in Fargo, we had about five weeks where basically everything in town shut down.  No one spent any money or did anything.

MR. STEWART:  I was applying for jobs after jobs.  I must have applied for 200 jobs.

MR. BERGERON:  It’s tough to not have a paycheck for five weeks, so I decided I needed steady income.

MR. STEWART:  So I cashed in my 401(k) and the little severance I had left, and I mean, I made a gamble.  It was either, you know, make your mortgage payment or go down to try to take some classes, so –

MR. BERGERON:  May 26th is when I was hired.

MR. STEWART:  So that was the break that I needed.  That was my networking opportunity to get some face time with somebody.  And I mean, I think – I’m so thankful for it.

MR. BERGERON:  I’m just happy to have the opportunity and appreciate it.

MR. STEWART:  This is what I want to do.  I’m fortunate that I found something also not only to support my family, but where I want to go for the rest of my life.  Like, this is what interests me.  I love doing the problem solving, and I found my career, you know.

MR. LEUTY:  Our first day at work, we were informed that there were 500 people on the waiting list for our small county.  And by the end of that week, there were over 600 households waiting on that list.  So people know that we’re trying to build it, but they’re already coming.

MR. SEWELL:  Every year prior to this that I was with the program, we’d always run out of funds and weren’t able to get to everyone on our waiting list.  But now with the recovery act, we’re looking forward to being able to serve all of the clients on our waiting list and adding quite a few more.

MR. FRANSEN:  They want to try and do a thousand homes this year.

STAFF:  Wow.

MR. FRANSEN:  Just in our Salt Lake area.

MR. CHU:  I think we could reasonably expect to do between 800 and a thousand homes, which would be on the order of 1 ½ percent of our entire residential housing stock in one year, which we’re quite proud of.

MS. CAMPANELLA:  And I just love it.  It’s a wonderful program, and it’s exciting.  My days are never boring.  No two days are the same.

MR. GILL:  I mean, this sounds almost messianic, but you – when you walk into somebody’s house, you can really change their life.

MR. BERGERON:  What I really like about it – there’s a couple of things.  One is knowing that I’m actually making a difference out there and helping people.

MR. GILL:  One old lady comes to mind – little Italian lady, bigger around than she was tall, great lady, cooking all the time, fed the crew, fed everybody.  Had a four-room house, four-room, two-story house, probably a total of 600 square feet.  Big boiler in the cellar, big wood stove in the cellar, which she couldn’t use.  Her husband had always handled the wood.  She was scared to death of it – wouldn’t burn the wood.  I came through the back door, and she threw this bear hug on me.  I thought I was dead.  (Laughter.)  And – what is it?  And she said, oh – she said, for the first time since my husband died I can sleep in my bed in the wintertime.  I said, what do you mean?  This woman, because the house couldn’t stay warm enough even with blankets on the bed for her to sleep upstairs, had been sleeping in a chair three months of the year, not even a recliner.

MR. FRANSEN:  I’ve had people come up to me and actually cry on my shoulder and say – just to thank me.

MR. BERGERON:  The little kids give you a hug when you’re leaving, and you’re like, OK, you know, because you replaced the window that’s been broken for two years.

MR. BARTH:  We’ve hired three new people on board.  And things are just kind of rolling right along.

MR. QUALLS:  The recovery act, you know, opened up more positions and stuff like that.  Travis needed some more help, so he brought me on board.

MR. BERGERON:  Myself and two other people were hired simply because of the recovery act.

MR. SEWELL:  We’ve been able to hire already four people in the last two months.

MR. FRANSEN:  We have been hiring people like crazy right now because we are expanding phenomenally.

MR. CHU:  We’re creating local jobs, hyperlocal jobs.  These are jobs that can’t be outsourced.  They’re smaller-scope jobs.  They’re not jobs that, you know, big construction companies are coming from out of state to do.  It’s people from the community.  It’s people from the area.

MR. GILL:  The technology grew out of this program, and it’s now – it’s hitting real world.

MR. CHU:  These are improvements that we can make in our homes – in every home in – you know, in the United States, that pays for themselves.

MR. GILL:  In my opinion, the greatest benefit to the weatherization program eventually is going to be changing the way America builds.