Billie Dean and Jerry Stewart have been active in their Decatur, Alabama, community for decades. She ran her own daycare service for more than 35 years and is a volunteer with Community Action Partnership of North Alabama's foster-grandparent program. He is retired from the city of Decatur and is disabled.
As often happens with homes of seniors (the Stewarts are in their 70s), repairs had become physically and financially overwhelming.
"This is a common challenge for many seniors in our community," says Mike Tubbs, CEO of Community Action Partnership (CAP) of North Alabama, a NeighborWorks America network member with offices in Decatur, Moulton and Cullman. "Unfortunately, our ability to weatherize homes is based on available funding, and the needs in the community always outpace the funding."
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program reduces costs for low-income households through increased energy efficiency, while also promoting their health and safety. CAP's weatherization programs are funded through grants received from DOE, which supports 8,500 jobs and provides weatherization services to approximately 35,000 homes every year. Through the weatherization improvements and upgrades, households save an average of $283 or more a year, according to a national evaluation of the program.
From 2014 to 2016, DOE funding allowed CAP to weatherize 43 homes.
"Our programs provide energy-conservation improvements, including insulation, weather stripping and storm windows," says Angela Ingram, CAP energy director. "In all the homes we work on, we actually reduce energy consumption by an average of 30 percent."
Partners and volunteers help defray uncovered and technical costs of weatherizing homes during an event CAP markets as "Weatherization Day."
"The Stewarts were approved to receive the home improvements they so desperately needed to make their home safe, healthy and energy-efficient," says Ingram. "We have contractors do the necessary technical work needed for insulation and electrical upgrades, and then we work with community members and partners, who volunteer time and resources to do additional landscaping and cosmetic touch-ups to the properties."
The Stewart project began with pressure washing of the home's exterior, raking leaves and mowing the lawn, and gutter cleaning. This work went smoothly, until the assessor discovered a major issue.
"The Stewarts' wiring was determined to be a fire hazard, so we had to stop all the work while licensed electricians worked tirelessly for two days to completely rewire the home," Ingram says.
Although the Stewarts had to stay in a hotel while contractors worked on the wiring, they were relieved to know they were returning to a safer and more energy-efficient home.
On Weatherization Day, nearly 20 volunteers and staff turned out to trim their shrubs, paint railings, finish their porch and fill planters with colorful flowers. At the same time, contractors worked inside and out, adding and replacing insulation throughout the home.
The culmination of hard work at the Stewart home was celebrated by the Decatur-Morgan Chamber of Commerce, partner agencies, employee volunteers and local officials, who highlighted the importance of weatherization programs for income-eligible residents.
At the end of the event, Tubbs reiterated CAP's founding philosophy: "Helping people and changing lives—it's what we do."