This August, Julia Guy completed a busy year with Vital Communities as an AmeriCorps Energy Savings Outreach Specialist. Originally from Binghamton, New York, Julia graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Theatre and a minor in Environmental Studies. She so thrived in the program that she accepted a year-long position at SerVermont, which oversees AmeriCorps in Vermont. Among her lasting contributions to Vital Communities and the Upper Valley are a website page of background and resources on “energy burden,” a critical concept in social equity and environmental justice. Energy burden is the percent of household income spent on energy for such things as transportation and household heating and cooling. The lower the household income, the higher the energy burden tends to be. Here is Julia’s reflection on her year at Vital Communities.
I started my year of service at Vital Communities in August 2020, logging in to meet my new co-workers from my little apartment in White River Junction. Although it was strange to get to know Vital Communities staff and the Upper Valley community over Zoom, my experience over this past year speaks to the resilience, warmth, and benevolence of our unique region.
The VISTA program began as a domestic peace Corps during LBJ’s War on Poverty and since the 60s has been aiding disaster relief from hurricanes to COVID-19. I am one of 30 AmeriCorps VISTA members serving Vermont organizations over the past year. Many of us are younger people determined to make a difference and trying to find our footing after a rocky start to our careers due to a global pandemic.
This year I was lucky to serve on Vital Communities’ Energy Savings Program along-side dedicated and passionate volunteers from Town Energy Committees around the Upper Valley. I worked with the volunteers to gather and share information about energy savings programs with local residents that could help them save on their energy bills now and into the future. By the numbers, we had 11 towns, 22 volunteers, reached out to 1,122 residents, and directly helped at least 40 folks get access to the programs that could serve them. We also developed deep connections within communities, where the energy committees we worked with are now go-to resources for neighbors looking to reduce or get help paying their energy bills. In talking with residents about their energy needs, our volunteers were pleased to find many examples of how we are already helping one another, plowing driveways, dropping off firewood, and helping neighbors apply for financial assistance.
In this new virtual world, it can be easy to feel isolated but there were many moments when I felt deep kindness and support from the Upper Valley community that I will remember fondly. Over the winter, I got a call from a volunteer that started with questions about energy-saving programs and ended with us chatting over how to improve our chosen home of Vermont while also keeping our shared roots and love for Upstate New York in our hearts. Later, this same volunteer sent me note saying, “Sad to hear we lose you at the end of August, “ after learning my service year was coming to an end. I’m already looking back and laughing about the time I thought I might be stranded without service during mud-season while driving through bucolic Randolph dropping off outreach materials to volunteers. And I’ll always remember the excitement I heard over the phone from a mobile home resident who was going to play her first game of bingo at the local senior center in over a year.
This summer, I created an Energy Burden web page where residents can find information about energy savings and energy assistance programs all in one place. I also created a toolkit we’re for future volunteer groups to replicate what our volunteer teams have done over the past year.. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made over the past year and glad to leave behind resources that will be used in the Upper Valley for years to come.