By Emilia Emerson
Had you told me just a few months back, that I’d be serving as a team leader with Energy Corps In Montana, my reaction would have been one of disbelief and confusion. I don’t have a degree in environmental studies or anything remotely similar – I was an art major. Until now, conservation and sustainability were topics that caught my attention when reading the news, or concepts that I tried to practice in my daily life (You know – turn the lights off! Wear a sweater when you’re cold! Recycle!) but never did I consider them as a career (or rather, service term). It was curiosity that led me to apply for Americorps in August and from there everything happened very quickly. I had two weeks to find an apartment, load up my car, and move cross country. Which I did, 2,438 miles from Massachusetts to Butte, disgruntled cat in tow. And now, two weeks in I can tell you I’ve learned there’s so much more to energy conservation than remembering to turn off the lights.
Orientation was a lot of information in three days but the biggest things I took away were 1 – There is a lot that can be (and is being) done to improve communities with the help of energy efficiency, and 2. – The rest of my team was ready to get started. Their positions require them to have some relevant background, and I resolved to learn as much as I possibly could to become a leader they could depend on. I enjoyed getting to know them and learning about their areas of focus. My favorite activity we did as a group was the seminar with Kayla and Jesse from EmpowerMT. It got us all talking more and opening up as we discussed complex issues like privilege, equality, prejudice, and how to handle tough situations that we might find ourselves in.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to be an effective leader and attending some webinars, (It’s pretty straightforward. Guide your team, don’t direct. Ask questions. Listen well. Simple stuff – but so important.) but also have been looking to boost my energy conservation and sustainability know-how by jumping at every available opportunity. Last week I attended a solar workshop hosted by MREA, (Montana Renewable Energy Association) and learned about what the group is doing with solar energy throughout the state. The discussion was interesting as we heard from different viewpoints – other NCAT members, a couple looking to convert their off the grid cabin to solar, curious citizens, and even a group from Northwestern Energy. I found the concept of shared solar very interesting in how it eliminates the need for solar panels installed on your own property – something that is a deterrent to many people.
I also traveled to the capitol building in Helena with Emily and Tristen to sit in on a committee meeting of the Commission of Community Service followed by an enthusiastic tour of the building by Sarah Sadowski, the committee’s grants manager. It was interesting learning about the different community service projects that are taking place all over Montana – not just the ones in our immediate circle.
To get some experience with weatherization techniques, I traveled to Helena again this week to participate in a Weatherization Training session held by the Montana Conservation Corps in order to prepare their AmeriCorps members for their last two weeks of service participating in Warm Hearts, Warm Homes. Before we even touched any materials, we spent a lot of time discussing poverty and privilege. How we might be going into situations that were different than we were used to and how important it was to treat our client’s with respect and act professionally. How for some people, this might be the only interaction they’ve had in some time and we should strive to make their experience with us pleasant and educational. Just as importantly, we discussed how to judge situations and be able to make the call about whether or not it was a safe situation to be in. Even more than what I learned about weatherization techniques, these learnings are what I hope to share with my team so when they weatherize houses, they go in feeling confident, informed, and capable of handling any situation.
It’s been a wonderfully busy two weeks and as my service continues, I hope all the opportunities to keep learning and growing do as well. But while it can be easy to get caught up in trying to attend every seminar, get certified in this or that, or become team leader extraordinaire, it’s important to remember that even the little things can make all the difference. On our team’s last day of pre-service orientation, we were working in a development built by the National Affordable Housing Network, helping get the yards ready for sod to be laid down. A young man came out of one of the houses cradling a hamster in his arms. As I said hello to them both, he told me how excited his hamster was about the new grass that would be there soon.
Emilia Emerson holds a bachelor’s degree in Digital Art from Northeastern University. Prior to Energy Corps, Emilia volunteered with the Grand Canyon Trust, focusing on wildlife conservation. Emilia joined Energy Corps in October 2017 and will serve at the National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte as the Energy Corps Team Leader. She will focus on member support through team building, mentorship, project coordination, and serve to expand the capacity of the program to conduct educational presentations that meet the full scope of the program’s data quality goals. Additionally, she will help organize and direct service projects, like the day of service on MLK day. She hopes to utilize her design and illustration skills to create materials that raise awareness and interest in sustainability.