By Zack Darby
When I was envisioning my Whitefish term of service (almost 1 year ago), I planned out a perfect 6 months, mapping out my community involvement and project goals for every month. Things never go according to plan, but 2020 has been an especially big curve ball for everyone. While my service didn’t go exactly to plan, there were so many great things that came out of my time as an Energy Corps member! As my service winds down, I have had the opportunity to reflect on some of these experiences and my own personal growth.
One of the projects that has felt meaningful is the Alpenglow apartment project. Affordable housing in Whitefish is hard to come by and this development aims to provide housing to lower income residents. One way to ensure that rental rates remain low is by providing cheap, clean energy. The City partnered with local non-profits Homeword and the Whitefish Housing Authority to add solar panels to the 3 buildings on-site. The project received grant funding from the Whitefish Community Foundation, and I had the opportunity to take the lead on the grant writing process. This project was great because we had a tangible impact in the community while implementing items on the climate action plan and lowering our overall emissions. Through this experience I learned a lot about current solar technology, working with non-profits, and the grant writing process. When I look back on my service, this is one of the most important projects for me!
Another project that was important to my service was the plastic bag reduction campaign. After doing my own research on single-use plastics, I realized that this was something that could have a huge impact on the community, our carbon footprint, and solid waste output. Through this project, I got to work with motivated students at Whitefish high school and community members to find solutions to our local plastic issue through creating green business designations to incentivize businesses through improved public image. In the end, work on the project slowed due to pandemic but the groundwork has been laid for the next sustainability coordinator to come in and finish up the project! Through this project I learned a lot about creating project deadlines, working with different groups, and policy implementation at the local level.
I am happy and proud of the City’s commitment to engage directly with climate action. I was fortunate to be a part of many projects (too many to report), that have the city headed toward their goals of carbon neutrality by 2050. For the future we need to finish some of the exiting projects (i.e. plastic bag reduction and solar array at the wastewater treatment plant) by bringing on another AmeriCorps member or hiring a full-time sustainability coordinator. For me, I can’t say thank you enough to my fellow Energy Corps members, program directors, and host site mentors for their leadership and dedication. When I needed inspiration for my work, I never had to look far. As I move forward, I will be looking for a similar position working with local climate policy. I know this experience has prepared me, and the rest of the cohort, for tackling current and future issues in the energy sector. Thanks to everyone for the support!