Wendy Van Zandbergen lost her job as a home healthcare manager when the job market went sour. The single mom felt anxious about how she would support her family, and she sold her house, exhausted her savings and emptied her retirement plan to stay afloat. When you’re a mom on your own, you’re bound to get creative in figuring out where to find a job, even more so if it's for one on which you can actually live. And that’s exactly what Wendy did. Almost eight months without work can be a challenge, and it creates constant worry about what could be around the corner.
During these challenging times in the job market, there weren’t many good jobs left unfilled in Durant, Okla., a town of about 16,000. Thankfully, a friend let Wendy move in with her, where she made hunting for a job her full-time job. She cleaned up construction sites and painted houses part-time to scrape by.
Finally, Wendy heard about a job created through part of the Energy Department’s portion of the Recovery Act. A friend told her about the weatherization efforts her local community action agency was undertaking.
Wendy is now an energy education trainer and a cheerleader for efficiency in her community. As a trainer, Wendy thinks her previous skills, everything from home healthcare management to interior design, are being put to good use. But she says it also helps that her personality fits the role.
Wendy says she shares tips on energy efficiency all the time now. She finds herself leaning over to folks at local sports events to talk to them about going green, and she can’t wait for someone to ask her what she does for a living, she says.
“As I talk to my neighbors and friends, and I tell them about how excited I am in what I’m doing, it encourages them to take their first steps in pursuing energy-saving measures and to change their behaviors,” Wendy says. “These are small steps, but it’s where the journey starts. I’m spreading the word about how they can save money and do their part to make the country more energy-efficient because I think it’s going to put money back in all our pockets.”
For Wendy, getting back on her feet is only part of her new line of work. She says the real benefits of the job are how it’s affecting others.
“That’s the reward for me, just being able to help people, and I think this program is just phenomenal for our community here and the country as a whole,” she says. “My whole life, I’ve told everybody that I know I want a job where I can help people, and I am.”
The Weatherization Assistance Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. WAP funds the Oklahoma State WAP, which in turn funds Big Five for its weatherization program.
Aside from weatherization, Big Five provides a range of services to communities in southern Oklahoma, including credit counseling, services for the homeless and developmentally disabled and education- and transportation-related services.