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The Commons
Life and Work

AmeriCorps member builds leadership skills while helping Vermonters save money

Originally published in The Commons issue #419 (Wednesday, August 2, 2017).



BRATTLEBORO—AmeriCorps member Haythem Basson, from the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust, spent several weeks this spring pondering how to best improve the weatherization of Southern Vermont’s mobile homes.

He knew that mobile home owners are often underserved by energy efficiency programs in Vermont and have higher energy consumption rates than traditional homeowners. Older mobile homes often lack basic insulation, double-paned windows, and insulated ductwork making them very leaky and expensive to heat in the winter and cool in the summer.

Basson reached out to fellow AmeriCorps members Ryan Gerrity from Efficiency Vermont and Heidi Underbakke from COVER Home Repair of White River Junction, to pioneer an energy efficiency and weatherization project drawing on their organizations’ areas of expertise.

Their program reached out to mobile home owners in three parks owned by the Housing Trust and targeted reducing high energy costs by providing energy efficiency and weatherization improvement and training.

They pioneered a unique three-tiered project providing the installation of free energy-efficient items, training residents on DIY weatherization techniques, and educating residents on their rights and responsibilities.

A portion of the workshop also addressed mobile home replacement options, including zero energy modular homes produced in the state by VERMOD, a Wilder-based builder of what it calls “high-performance manufactured homes.”

Sponsored by the Champlain Valley of Economic Opportunity and The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board through the High Meadows Fund, Hypertherm HOPE Foundation and NeighborWorks America, the AmeriCorps team was awarded $5,500 in grant money to implement the project.

On two days in June, the three AmeriCorps members met with mobile home park residents from Bellows Falls, Putney, and Springfield and handed out lightbulbs, demonstrated ways to weatherize through sealing air ducts, caulking leaky window frames and applying insulating window kits, and attendees were led on a tour of a VERMOD.

The project resulted in over 200 LED lights being installed, resulting in a savings of 9,200 kWh per year, or approximately $1,289. As the additional weatherization material is installed, further savings will be realized by the mobile homeowners.

There was also a safety component to the workshops, as Basson and Gerrity installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and handed out fire extinguishers.

The Windham & Windsor Housing Trust has had AmeriCorps members for the past 16 years, and direct service to the community is one of the hallmarks of the program.

“My position at the Housing Trust is really hands-on,” Basson said in a news release. “I was given a lot of responsibility, and collaborating with Heidi and Ryan made this project come alive.”

“One of the things I enjoy most about my AmeriCorps position is that every day is different. Sometimes I’m out in the field doing energy visits, or I might be presenting to senior communities, or meeting with emergency management officials to review disaster plans.”

Basson’s AmeriCorps term will be completed in August, and the Housing Trust is currently looking for his replacement.

“For the past two years this position has focused on efficiency and sustainability, and next year it will take a grassroots approach to assisting community members overcome barriers in terms of housing. Being here has been like being a part of a family, and people have really supported me in developing leadership skills, like putting together these workshops,” says Basson.

A member-based nonprofit organization, the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust creates a full spectrum of renter and owner-occupied housing opportunities that serve the residents of Windham and Windsor counties. Since its founding in 1987, WWHT has created more than 900 affordable homes and apartments. For more information, visit www.w-wht.org or call 802-254-4604.

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