“We Don’t Have the Time to Wait”
Nothing about last Saturday invited me to be outside. The wind blew with a bitter chill. My fingertips froze inside my gloves, and my left foot cramped from the cold. But I was just there to talk and observe; I could leave at any time. The university students, on the other hand, had committed to weatherizing an older couple’s home, and they stayed until it was finished.
What would bring 41 young adults outside for three hours on a bitingly cold weekend, when they had midterm exams to take and papers to write? For that matter, they had football to watch on TV, video games to play, or any number of other activities that wouldn’t require them to shiver in the wind. Yet, these volunteers were attaching weather stripping, putting plastic on the windows, and adding a door sweep in the front entrance of Ben Ploof’s home in Coralville, Iowa.
Across Iowa City and Coralville, 38 other students were donating a few hours of their weekend to winterize the homes of residents who needed their assistance. By Sunday evening, the group had helped 16 families to lower their utility bills, stay more comfortable in the coming winter, and reduce their carbon footprints.
Minor Weatherstripping, Major Effect
Stephanie Enloe, junior co-president of the University of Iowa’s Environmental Coalition (UIEC), is the pint-sized dynamo who organized the project. When her counterpart, senior co-president Eric Holthaus, told Stephanie about a grant from the Iowa Utilities Board, she said, “Hey, I’ll spearhead that!”
After the project was awarded one of ten $500 grants, Craig Just, professor of engineering and faculty adviser for the local chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World, offered to match the amount. The combined donation allowed students to purchase caulk, door sweeps, window film, CFL bulbs, and insulation pads to install behind outlets and switch plates.
To make sure students knew how to install the materials, Enloe put together a slide show and held training sessions at her home. Then she followed up by emailing a PowerPoint presentation to fellow volunteers. The students were eager to help make a difference in people’s lives and to improve the environment, even a window or door at a time, and Enloe wanted to help them do it correctly.
To find people needing weatherizing assistance, members of the UIEC notified religious groups, school counselors, and the Senior Center. The grant funds were intended to be used for elderly, disabled, or needy families. Ploof heard of the project through his church. “I think it’s a great help,” he said. “It may seem like minor weatherstripping, but it’s major for preventing infiltration from the wind.”
Ploof, whose wife requires continuous care due to a stroke, added, “I really appreciate the service. It probably would not have gotten done [except for the students’ efforts]. It’s needed, and it’s going to help.” He returned the favor by serving the students a warm pan of homemade apple crisp.
The UIEC has a tradition of community activism, including starting a campus recycling program last spring. Working with Dave Jackson at Facilities Management, students conducted a waste characterization study at selected buildings. What they found spurred them to continue: more than 50 percent of the trash was comprised of recyclable materials. And that didn’t include the food waste that could be composted. The group wrote a grant that yielded $14,000 from Coca Cola and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. With the award, they purchased recycling bins to place both inside and outside of campus buildings.
Student volunteer groups — and classes — are making their green mark both on and off campus. Groups offer green consulting in dorms and Greek houses, volunteers tend a community garden, and classroom projects that take young engineers as far away as Ghana to implement projects that improve sustainability.
When I asked Enloe why she and fellow students are taking such an aggressive approach to dealing with the environment, she didn’t hesitate. “My generation doesn’t have the time to wait for those in power to take care of the urgent problems facing us,” she said. “Climate change won’t wait for us to graduate or get settled. We have to do as much as we can to ensure that the world our children inherit is a safe one.”
With that kind of passion burning within, “those in power” (and the rest of us) could learn a lot by following the students’ lead.
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