Gabriel Sistare, staff writer
Warren Wilson students participating in the INSULATE! service trips provide more than a courtesy to local homeowners; they forge a bond with their neighbors that they would otherwise never meet.
Last year the INSULATE! Crew, along with Service Learning, weatherized three homes in the local area. On Saturdays, students would arrive at the aging homes prepared to dramatically improve the efficiency of the house within the day.
The name of the project may be a little misleading, because the students do not actually spray the cellulose used to insulate houses. Instead, they install carbon monoxide monitors and seal windows with caulk and weatherstrips.
A dedicated group of students remained with INSULATE! throughout the semester, each one of them participating for different reasons.
Freshman Ian Higgins, now a member of the INSULATE! Crew, made a spontaneous decision to join up.
“I stumbled upon INSULATE! by accident at ‘Sign-Up to Serve’ in the fall,” remembers Higgins.
Junior Chloe Stuber, the leader from service learning, had no idea what the trip demanded.
“It was one of the many trips on the service learning calender and they needed a leader,” said Stuber. “I had no idea it would be a trip I would become so involved in and dedicated to.”
Junior Noah Wilson, who went on two trips last semester, thought INSULATE! provided students with necessary skills along with a service to the homeowners.
“You never know when it comes in handy,” said Wilson. “These are useful, bankable, skills.”
Though students almost always leave campus to do service around Asheville, rarely do they get the opportunity to meet the older generation that has lived in the same mountains for decades.
Wilson, who will also lead the spring break INSULATE! trip, thought that INSULATE! gave him and the other students the opportunity to see these homes, these lives, that they would otherwise never notice.
“We don’t see the poverty…the homes they live in,” said Wilson. “We don’t know the old mountain people.”
Cleverly referring to these service trips as “de-insulating”, Wilson believed students would never meet these people unless they left the campus.
For many of the students who went on the trips, meeting the homeowners was a highlight. Everyone was able to establish a connection that seemed more than just the service workers and recipients.
For Higgins, talking to the homeowners was reaffirming.
“Hearing their stories, and hearing the history of the house makes it possible to connect on a personal level, which makes the work you are doing seem all the more important,” he said. “You are no longer working for energy savings, but [for] an actual person.”
While the students may have initially joined the trip because they wanted to learn a new skill or do hard work, the interactions between everyone working made them come back.
“It is not the thing that draws you there, but it makes you stay,” said Wilson.
For Higgins, the interaction with everyone working at each house was the real outstanding feature of the trips.
“We all came hoping to help people and help the environment, but I feel that the true highlight was interacting with the contractors and especially the homeowners,” said Higgins.
At first the homeowners may have been apprehensive, or defensive as Wilson put it, to receive all of these college students at their doorstep. But once the work was done and laughs had been exchanged, the homeowners were joyous.
“The looks on their faces are incredible,” said Wilson. “These are good folks, good natured, genuine.”
Stuber recalled that company was a highlight of the homeowners’ month.
Stuber had a particularly memorable time working with Ms. Thelma Huggins of Leicester. Having the opportunity to work in the room where Ms. Huggins sat, Stuber was able to develop an unforgettable relationship with her. Stuber even received one of Ms. Huggins’ skirts that she found when cleaning out the attic. When the INSULATE! group returned to Ms. Huggins’ house to see how she was, Ms. Huggins and Stuber performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with Ms. Huggins singing and Stuber on the piano.
“I aim to visit her again,” Stuber said. “She is a classic mountain woman. If you want to know a local, talk to Thelma Huggins.”
INSULATE! is growing this semester. Up from the three trips that were led in the fall, four Saturday trips will be led, and during spring break, INSULATE! will work on five homes in five days — perhaps even more due to partnerships with other agencies.
Already, the work of INSULATE! has been featured in the Asheville Citizen-Times, and on the radio program, World Vision Report. For the students that have already gone on trips and will continue to go, the publicity is an opportunity to show the local community, and even region, the good work that has been done.
For Wilson, this publicity is an opportunity to capitalize on, leading to more student interest.
If INSULATE! were to expand, a service that Wilson calls “integral” to the Asheville area would continue.
Higgins feels that there continues to be a need for INSULATE! in Asheville and surrounding communities.
“As INSULATE! is right now, there is a definite need to expand our services to more homes in the area,” he said.
Stuber claims that INSULATE! is instrumental in improving local communities.
“You are providing a service, but it is these things that build community,” she said.
For her, these experiences are intergenerational, multi-cultural, and cut across class lines.
Philip Gibson, Director of Community Outreach for the Environmental Leadership Center, and INSULATE! Crew supervisor, thinks the College should be pleased with INSULATE!.
“Warren Wilson students should be proud of bringing forth this idea of ‘insulating our community’ and being so supportive of making it a reality,” said Gibson.
Along with the local publicity, INSULATE! will be thrust on to the national scene at the PowerShift summit that we be held this year from Feb. 27-March 2 in Washington D.C.
For Gibson, this opportunity will allow more people to consider how necessary projects like INSULATE! are.
“Given the need, we need to engage everyone that expresses an interest,” said Gibson.
According to Gibson, the original idea for INSULATE! was generated by students during the ride back from last years PowerShift summit.
Senior Nina Otter, who will present at PowerShift, hopes to give an inspiring presentation with useful information about how other students can implement INSULATE! on their campus and community.
“I hope to create a buzz around the conference,” said Otter. “I hope to get students excited and [start] planning to organize INSULATE! programs.”
To the delight of those who have already participated in INSULATE! trips, the program seems to be attracting more students and expanding. For Otter, INSULATE! is not a difficult thing to enjoy.
“INSULATE! rallies the passions of students who want to affect environmental and social change and open a space for tangible actions,” she said.