College's Winter Blitz Project Helps Residents Conserve Energy
Photos by Kathy KeeserWilliams sophomores Inez Tan and Nicole Wise wrap insulation around water pipes on a basement furnace in a North Adams home as part of a community project.
The second annual Williams College Winter Blitz on Saturday, Nov. 7, included 28 teams working on weatherization projects at 35 homes in Northern Berkshires.
"The student turnout was amazing and I'm just so happy that we were able to make Winter Blitz a success for the second year in a row," said Madeline King, a Williams junior and a blitz organizer. Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students also participated. "The number of students who stepped up and showed leadership in the planning process and as team leaders truly made this possible."
Team leaders for each group attended a morning training session led by Malcolm Doble, a staff member of the Berkshire Community Action Council's weatherization department, coordinated with the help of Alan Silverstein from the Center for Ecological Technology.
Each team was provided with materials for installing basic comfort measures, such as window caulking and weather stripping. When they arrived at the homes, they worked with a family member to assess what needed to be done and then went to work.
Spending several hours at each home enabled the teams to do a thorough job. Working to install plastic storm windows and other weatherization projects at one house in North Adams were team leader Sarah Bender, a Williams junior, along with junior Susannah Eckman and freshmen Erich Trieschman, Phoebe Gould, Kyle Bolo, Clarie Seizovic and Emily Levy.
"Though it seemed daunting to come here without a lot of training; so far everything is going smoothly. The first window took awhile, but we got it down now and on our second house, we will be experts," said Levy.
At another house, team leader Lexie Carr, a freshman at Williams and Bhavya Reddy, a junior, were working out the length and other adjustments as they installed an automatic door sweeper on the front door to prevent drafts. When the door is closed, the "sweep" comes down to create a seal. Inside the house, Sally Mairs, also from Williams, was busy installing insulation around fixtures and outlets.
Meanwhile in the basement of a third house, Inez Tan and Nicole Wise, both sophomores at Williams, put insulation on pipes and upstairs, Katharine Gallagher, team leader and sophomore, installed plastic storm windows along with team members Stephen Simalchik, Meghan Landers and Tara Deonauth, all freshmen from Williams.
Gioconda 'Connie' Vecellio, 94, and her son, Michael. Vecillio's North Adams home was selected for the winterization project.
"This project is important from an environmental perspective, houses should be more efficient with heating and energy and our work will mean cost saving for people," said Mairs.
Some of the students mentioned working on Habitat for Humanity in the past.
"I did Habitat before and this combines environmental with things I have done in the past," said Reddy. Simalchik added, "this was an opportunity through the college (Williams) to get a chance to do crafty things." Or as Wise put it: "I like tinkering, working on things, making things and putting things together."
For many this was their first community service project of the year, and quite a few expressed interest in doing future projects. The Winter Blitz gave students a chance to form connections between students and the community since, often, Williams students only pass through North Adams. One freshman had visualized working on a farmhouse with an elderly couple and was surprised by the more urban setting of the house the team worked on on Hall Street in North Adams.
Sally Mairs, a Williams sophomore, said the project helps the environment and helps reduce heating bills.
"This was the first time I have had something like this done," said Vecellio. Her son added, "that it is great that they have programs like this now and it is nice. It is important and will help with [my mother's] bills.”
Funding for this year's Winter Blitz was received from the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, the Williams College Office of Campus Life, the Center for Community Engagement, Thursday Night Group, the Lehman Council for Community Engagement, and the College Council Co-Sponsorship Fund. Community partnerships include support from Take Charge at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and CET, and working closely with BCAC to identify the area homes designated for weatherization.