College students help seal homes in 'Winter Blitz'

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WILLIAMSTOWN — More than 100 Northern Berkshire and Southern Vermont college students proved Saturday even an abject novice can do serious good wielding a hammer, weather stripping, or caulk gun in the name of saving fuel and money.

They successfully sealed up 33 homes in the region after receiving minimal on-the-spot training from group leaders, who themselves had only an hour's training to master the art of energy conservation.

Thirty-three groups — mostly Williams College students padded by 20 Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and 15 Bennington College students added to their ranks - went out Saturday.

What's more, participants seemed to have loads of fun doing it.

One group of Williams students came back to raving about a sword collection a homeowner had shown off to them. Another returned saying an elderly woman gave everyone hugs and offered money, which they dutifully rebuffed.

Williams sophomores Divya Sampath and Gabriella Carmona, 20 and 19, inherited organizational duties for the eight-year-old event, dubbed Winter Blitz, from last year's seniors

"We didn't know how much work was involved in this," Sampath said. "[Planning for Winter Blitz] is what we did until 3 o'clock [Saturday] morning."

"Even then, I laid down in bed and couldn't shut my brain off," Carmona said. "I was thinking of storm windows, caulk guns, weather stripping."

The effort paid off.

"Glowing reviews" from the owners of homes worked on Saturday kept coming through the afternoon.

Primary on-site tasks included installation of storm windows, pipe insulators, door draft guards, vacuum sealing windows and caulking cracks and holes.

Team leaders learned the skills in a 45-minute training session at Williams' Jenness House in the morning before on-site work began around 9:30 a.m., wrapping up at 1 p.m.

"The windows are so hard," 19-year-old Williams College sophomore Isabel Andrade said. "You press in [the weather stripping] as best as you can but it's so scary using a hammer right next to a window."

The college initially put out word about the event, then the Bennington Banner and also Vermont state Rep. William Botzow, D-Pownal.

That's when calls really started pouring in.

"We started getting in influx of calls and emails, like 20 or 30 a day toward the end," Sampath said. "More than 100 people ultimately contacted us, and from those we chose 33 to work on."

Home worked on Saturday were located in Williamstown, Adams, Pownal, Vt., and Bennington, Vt., where a busload of Williams students took off for in the morning.

Participants may consider using the demand as an argument to push town official and state and local politicians to push for more similar programming, Sampath said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists sealing one's home among the top ways individuals can reduce personal greenhouse gas emissions and save money. Others include switching to higher efficiency light bulbs, reusing and recycling and buying green power.


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