The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News April 21, 2006

Youths Work to Lower Energy Costs
YES Raises Funds to Expand

In 2005, the City of Oberlin spent over $14 million in energy costs; however, none of that money stayed in the local community. This calculation was determined by Youth Energy Squad co-founder Avery Book, OC ’05.

“One-half to one-third of energy expenditures could potentially be saved in an average town,” said Book.

YES was founded to further this interest. It is a nonprofit group that trains high school students to perform energy-saving operations at home and then sends them into lower-income households to perform them. It is a very much grassroots organization whose reputation has traveled through word of mouth. People call the organization to request their help.

Tonight, April 21, YES is sponsoring a fundraiser intended to help pay for overhead costs and to further YES’s goal in becoming more independent from its partner organizations of Oberlin Design initiative, Mt. Zion Community Development Committee and the Oberlin Unitarian-Universalist Church. The spaghetti dinner, accompanied by live music, will be held at First Church from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and low-income persons and free for children.

“The discussion [about forming the organization] started in fall 2003,” said Book. “We were working with ODI. Staff members set up a meeting between me, Sam Merritt [OC ’05] and CDC. We wanted to collaborate and recognize that this was an energy issue but also a community development issue.”

The Mt. Zion Baptist youth group joined with the Oberlin Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship youth group and, after half a year of planning, began YES in the spring of 2004.

Since the spring of 2004, they have worked on over 60 homes. Their water-saving measures include installing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and various devices meant to save toilet water — most commonly the “tank bank.” All these devices lessen the amount of actual water being used while maintaining things like water pressure. Ten compact-fluorescent lightbulbs are installed per home.

Weatherizing endeavors include placing insulation blankets around water heaters, caulking up cracks around doors and windows and using expandable foam for cracks in the basement. During winter, lining windows with plastic creates an insulating pocket of air.

“It was the first time we coupled education with action,” said co-founder Merritt, now head of Full Circle Fuels. “So people were learning but they also had more effective homes. It makes a big difference.

“They’re great kids,” Merritt said. “Most were already involved in volunteering.”

Rosa Gadsen is an outreach coordinator for the Mt. Zion Baptist Church who has worked for Lorain County’s Home Weatherization Program. Through her work there, she gained expertise in the techniques employed by YES. She has helped to coordinate the organization’s efforts.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Gadsen. “I found the kids were really interested in finding out how to help people in their homes.”

Eddie Miller is a senior at Oberlin high school who has been involved with YES for two years. He has done about six Saturdays worth of work for them.

“It was introduced to [me] a great community event and a nice way of cooperating with the college — which doesn’t happen all too often,” said Miller. “It has been really educational... just talking with Avery and Sam. Those guys really know their stuff and are always eager to pass it around.”

According to Book, the College’s involvement with YES has never been “formalized.” Merritt described the work groups as being generally composed of four high school students, two College students and a supervisory adult.

Ed Vermue, Special Collections and Preservation Librarian at the College, has been one of those adults, working specifically with the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship youth.

“Its good for adults and youth,” said Vermue. “Youth get good experience: learn about weatherization, how to use tools and be handy. I got to meet people and go into their homes that I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to otherwise... it’s a small thing but it has a big impact.”

“[The program] has had a very positive impact,” said Miller. “You can tell by the applications that keep coming — everyone is very grateful for what we do.  Also, it has done a nice job of tying churches, the College and the high school all together very neatly.”

“We’ve done 60 houses,” said Gadsen, “and always gotten really positive feedback.”

Because of its popularity, YES has recently felt the need to become an independently-funded organization.

“ODI and [Zion] CDC are basically out of funds and staff,” said Book. “CDC is donating the equipment and Rosa Gadsen is willing to train the youth. There’s no real funding as yet. [The fundraiser] is just to keep us going.”

YES has minimaloverhead and staffing costs, such as house inspections and the five dollars per house stipend the high school students receive. But YES also has newer goals.

“We’d like to expand [our] scope,” said Book. “To start weatherizing middle and upper-level income homes, for a small fee probably. We’ve been talking about getting a summer program started, where the kids would support the biodiesel initiative. We’d like a chance for the youth to learn more in depth about the issues and become even more personally invested in it.”


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