Gaylene Soper loves her job with the Northern Arizona Council on Governments' (NACOG) weatherization assistance program, because it affords her the opportunity to help senior citizens.
"A lot of senior citizens' only source of income is their social security money, and we help them save a lot of it by reducing their utility bills," says Soper. "It's a wonderful program."
Soper came to her job as NACOG's administrative specialist in September 2009, several months after she was laid off of her last job as an office manager. Soper brings good experience to NACOG, having spent twenty years working for construction companies.
Expanding the program, creating jobs
Her position was created as part of an expansion of the weatherization assistance program, which NACOG is funding with a $7.5 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Since 1982, NACOG has provided free weatherization services to low-income residents in four northern Arizona counties, where a variable climate can make it a challenge to keep homes energy efficient.
Bob Baca, NACOG's director of weatherization, says the Arizona non-profit has used part of the funding to hire Sopa, six new weatherization crew members, two additional administrative staff members and eight additional private contractors.
Increasing staff has helped NACOG be on target to meet its goals. The nonprofit has delivered more than a 300 percent increase in the number of homes weatherized. To date, the organization has weatherized 407 homes through the Recovery Act, and Baca hopes to weatherize 1,200 homes over a three year period.
Helping families save money
According to Baca, the need for weatherization is great in northern Arizona, where low-income residents can spend up to two-thirds of their income on utility bills.
"The duct systems in many homes in this region are atrocious and this causes a lot of energy to be wasted," says Baca. "Our weatherization services can improve a home's energy efficiency by 33 percent, and homeowners can use the money they save for other expenses."
NACOG's weatherization crews fix ailing duct systems, install much-needed insulation and assess the efficiency of homes' furnaces and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. To qualify for NACOG's weatherization assistance, homeowners' annual income must equal or be less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
According to Soper, recipients of NACOG's weatherization services often call the non-profit after receiving their first post-weatherization utility bill to thank them for providing weatherization services free of charge.
"People are just so happy that they have saved so much money," she says.