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Rising Sun Saves Energy, Trains Teens

Teens are coming into local homes through April 15 to help residents get more energy-efficient.

As a community that takes its “greenness” very seriously, Ross Valley residents should be embracing a program that trains teens to help the entire community conserve energy.

Bearing gifts of CFL light bulbs and water-saving faucets, young workers trained and employed by California Youth Energy Services visit homes to conduct energy audits and offer simple energy-saving repairs. In so doing, the teens are creating greener neighborhoods, as well as preparing themselves for green jobs.

The program, facilitated by Rising Sun Energy Center of Berkeley, hires nearly 90 teenagers each summer from urban neighborhoods in nearby cities, trains them on people skills and energy efficiency practices, and sends them out to homeowners and renters who have requested energy audits.

“Our aim is to reduce household gas and electricity use while training the next generation of environmental leaders,” Jailan Adly, program director of Rising Sun Energy Center, said in a prepared statement.  

Arriving in pairs, the CYES teenagers measure the household electricity, gas and water consumption and then offer residents help in reducing this usage by switching out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs, installing water-saving faucet-heads, and offering retractable clotheslines to use instead of energy-gulping clothes dryers.

The results are not only kilowatt hours of electricity and cubic meters of water saved, but community bonding from neighbors helping neighbors and self-esteem in the young people performing the services.

“We are really committed to giving young people with barriers the chance to excel and gain skills,” Executive Director Jodi Pincus said in a prepared statement.

These kids are currently spreading out throughout Marin to do energy audits and make local homes wore efficient. The current program in Marin ends on April 15.

CYES recruits 15-to-22-year-olds from local high schools and community centers, seeking kids who need opportunities. It offers them a summer job paying $9 to $10 an hour and a chance to learn more about the environmental conservation.  

The youth sometimes describe it as life-changing. “If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be in the streets doing something negative,” said one CYES participant, Derrick Walker from Richmond, in a recent interview by CYES. 

The program has been so successful that in eight years, 400 teenagers have been trained as “energy specialists” and they’ve retrofitted more than 9,000 homes and 11 shelters. From its first year involving 15 kids working on 200 homes in one city, the program now takes nearly 100 kids each summer from nine Bay Area communities to they audit and offer repairs on 2,100 households a summer.

Rick Vidrio, outreach director, provided additional information about the program.

PATCH: Can you tell us a bit about how the program was formed?

Rick Vidrio: CYES began in 1994 in Santa Cruz and moved to Berkeley in 2000. Since then, we have grown rapidly over the years. This summer we plan to have 12 cities participate in our large summer program. We have employed over 600 youth and have served over 13,000 homes in the Bay Area (about 4,000 in Marin County). We are funded through ratepayer dollars through the California Public Utilities Commission, administered by PG&E. We are also partially-funded through the water districts and local city governments.

Patch: How do the teens get connected to the program? Do they apply or are they recruited and what qualifications/skills do you look for?

RV: We recruit most of the youth from local high school and community schools. We like to hire those that have barriers to employment and are new to the workforce. This way they can build their resume and have a meaningful experience with their first job. We do a lot of energy and water conservation education, but we also do weekly professional development. We also like to hire youth that have an interest in sustainability.

Patch: Will the teens be heading into the area soon or are you recruiting?

RV: Yes, we finished our training and are now performing Green House Calls. Our Spring program will end April 15 and we would love to have as many people signed up as possible. Our summer program will begin June 27. We will be performing about 20-30 appointments a week so it would be best for people to sign up now so we can guarantee a time slot. They can sign-up by calling me at (415) 532-7566.

Patch: How does it work? 

RV: The youth occasionally do door-to-door canvassing when we have cancellations, but for the most part all appointments are prearranged. We have a very unique marketing system. We like to present to local organizations, table at events, get published in newspapers or newsletters. As we are a nonprofit organization, there are limits to our marketing goals but any help from the community or other organizations in Marin are welcomed and highly appreciated.

Patch: Who benefits and how?

RV: Everyone in the Marin community can benefit from this service. Both homeowners and renters can benefit by receiving free energy- and water-efficient products and also by getting involved with the youth in their community. Property Managers can benefit by reducing water consumption and costs. They can also benefit by saving their tenants money on their utility bills and helping them go green. This is also a great way to increase “green” marketability for their properties. Last, but definitely not the least, the youth benefit from being part of a growing green workforce and having a meaningful, fun job experience.

To learn more, contact Jodi Pincus, executive director of Rising Sun Energy Center at pincus@risingsunenergy.org or 510-665-1501, ext.11.

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