Press-Citizen: Nonprofit group goes door-to-door offering aid
August 10, 2012
By Josh O'Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen
Some have confused them with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been ordered off others’ lawns.
But many who have invited Zach Gruenhagen and his team inside for a glass of ice water have found it worth their while, and they may wind up saving some money in return.
Gruenhagen is leading an energy efficiency campaign this summer called Our Power, in which he and a group of environmental advocates are canvassing Iowa City neighborhoods to find homes and businesses they can help become more energy efficient.
On Thursday afternoon, Gruenhagen’s crew was working inside a sprawling cooperative house on Summit Street, home to 17 residents and dozens of old pipes and windows that needed shoring up. The group caulked gaps in window frames, sealed joints to the furnace and patched holes in the siding with the goal of making the four-level, 16 bedroom home and its heating conduits airtight.
“Once people give us the time to hear our message, they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re not selling anything? It’s free? Sure, come in and have some water,’” said Gruenhagen, 21, a senior-to-be at the University of Iowa. “We’re an environmental group, and at our core, we’re trying to promote a green economy, but this work is also just saving people money.”
The Our Power program is one of three initiatives this year through the Iowa City Summer of Solutions, a nonprofit group that has organized a series of local environmental projects the past three years. This year, Summer of Solutions also is cultivating three community gardens and working on a sustainable public art project, in addition to the energy campaign.
The Our Power crew, which includes five workers and two project leaders ranging in age from high school students to UI graduate students, have so far worked with 130 residents to make their homes more efficient, largely in the Miller Orchard and Grant Wood neighborhoods, along with 13 businesses in the Northside Marketplace and south downtown district.
Jeremy Endsley, a resident of the Summit Street cooperative, was lending a hand caulking windows alongside Gruenhagen on Wednesday. He said the team’s efforts would make a difference in the old house, which can be drafty in places.
“They’re really helping us out,” Endsley said. “We might not have gotten around to it if they hadn’t come along.”
In the basement, recent UI graduate Taryn Tigges, 22, and City High junior-to-be Eli Shepherd, 17, installed pipe from the water heater and furnace. The two said the group’s focus is on quick and easy fixes that can make an immediate difference in a home.
“We try to do the do-it-yourself level things,” Tigges said.
Added Shepherd: “It’s more bang for your buck.”
The crew has completed similar weatherizing and insulation jobs at eight other homes this summer, but in total have worked with more than 100 other homeowners to devise energy efficiency strategies. They also are connecting residents with local resources they might not otherwise have known about, including MidAmerican Energy’s rebate program and Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Weatherization Innovation Pilot Program.
Gruenhagen said knocking on doors can be daunting but also rewarding when a homeowner is receptive.
“There are doors that greet you with a frown and a, ‘What can I help you with?’ And then you get into the pitch and share your story, and sit in their house and have a conversation with them, and by the end of it, they’ve signed up for a couple of programs and appreciate the work you’re doing,” Gruenhagen said. “Just overall, you realize that most people in this town are approachable.”
SOURCE: Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 10, 2012, by Josh O'Leary. Click here to view the article online.