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Teaching Them to Fish … for Energy Efficiency

January 7, 2010 - 3:18pm

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People around the country will soon tune in to watch an energy-efficient building project touch the lives of young people in the nation’s capital. The popular TV show  “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” recently teamed up with local leaders and builders to capture an important moment that will help Washington, D.C., children find a place to learn and grow.

Each episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” chronicles the efforts of builders and volunteers as they work around the clock to finish a construction project in one week. A nonprofit called The Fishing School will be the subject of an upcoming episode.

The Fishing School, located in the northeastern part of the district, is a nationally-recognized youth development group that provides academic and parental support to children and families.  Its name was inspired by the adage, “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.”

Thanks to the project, the old, dilapidated residential building where the group has tutored 45 children after school each day has been replaced by a new, energy-efficient building large enough to serve up to 53 percent more children each year.

It’s a “game changer” for the organization because its members have spent years exploring ways to serve more children, director Leo Givs says.

“For nonprofits in this economic climate, your options are pretty limited because raising significant amounts of money is a challenge,” he says. “We’re now able to be at a place in 2009 that we thought would not be possible for another six years.”

And, the school is going to be able to expand its services from lower grade levels up through eighth grade, allowing its academic specialists to prepare middle school students for their first year of high school and beyond. That’s great news to parents like Tamika Hill.

“I love The Fishing School because it has helped my son with his homework and with his development,” she says. “He has taken all that he has learned and has applied it [throughout] the school year.”

The school will now have a healthier environment and significantly reduced energy bills for a building its size, freeing up resources that can be used to further its charitable mission. Additionally, the green technologies in the building will be used as an educational outreach tool, as the group plans to invite neighborhood schoolchildren for green tours of the building. The new school features technologies such as insulated concrete forms, triple-paned windows, energy-efficient appliances and solar-assisted heat pumps.

 “[DOE] worked with the builders to identify technologies they have funded that lower energy consumption,” Jennifer Smith, a pro bono public relations practitioner for the school, says. “It’s probably one of the most energy-efficient buildings the show has ever done, and it’s a great opportunity for DOE to showcase its technologies. They even helped point us in the direction of companies that made the products we needed.”

She loves working with The Fishing School because of the passion the people who work there have for helping D.C.’s underprivileged youth, she says. The new building was a much-needed project because there were more kids who wanted in on the program but couldn’t attend because the facilities were too small, she adds.

“We were able to help a community while also showing viewers what they can do to be more energy efficient,” she says.

Not only will the children at the school now be able to take advantage of its original services, but also they’ll have a daily opportunity to learn new things about green building and energy efficiency that can stick with them for a lifetime.

When the show airs, viewers will also hear the story of a second energy-efficient building project that DOE collaborated with the show to build. That new home, in Maryland, belongs to a family who runs a bus ministry for their local church. The episode is tentatively scheduled to air February 2010.

The Building Technologies Program within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Oakridge National Laboratory have worked for decades with the building community to improve the efficiency of buildings. Many of building practices and materials used in the TV show’s projects were developed through research and development work within BTP and ORNL.

Editorial note:  Story was updated on August 4, 2010 to reflect the number of children tutored.

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