By Terrah Baker
Climate change is widely accepted as a reality facing our country, particularly affecting the way we utilize and think about the United States’ energy usage and resources.
One national program has placed its members in Northwest Arkansas’ public schools, arts centers, universities and city governments to spread the word about how to address unmet community energy needs, and how these issues will face our country in the future.
Energy Corps is only in its second year in Arkansas, but its impact can already be seen all around the local area. For the third year, the program leaders are accepting new host sites until Aug. 15, where Energy Corps members will go to work trying to make a difference.
“Ideally, we are helping the Energy Corps member to build his or her resume with sustainability-related or energy-related skills, knowledge and experience. We are helping him or her build a network of connections in this field,” Michelle Halsell, director of the University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center, said of the main responsibility of a host site to its member.
But what the host site receives in return is an employee who is contracted for one year to do outreach and organize and implement initiatives pertaining to environmental stewardship.
Shannon Joyce, Halsell’s and ASC’s Energy Corps member, has organized events that teach children and adults about the importance of monitoring their energy consumption. Because Joyce builds the tools and resources for these projects, Halsell and her team will be able to replicate these initiatives even after Joyce has moved on.
“We are a small team. … There is a limit to what we can accomplish. Shannon is building the foundations for an annual sustainability leadership summit. She is creating templates for workshop materials that can be used over and over again,” Halsell said.
Dana Smith is one Energy Corps member who joined to network in the field of sustainability, then received a full-time position with her host site — the Fayetteville Public School District. She now serves as sustainability coordinator and hosts a member, Sammi Jones, who has completed trash usage audits in the school cafeterias; worked to implement the Farm to School Initiative, in which fresh, local foods are used in cafeteria cooking; and helped develop school gardens.
These projects may not have been possible without this program, said Melissa Terry, communities coordinator for the National Center for Applied Sustainability — the founding organization of Energy Corps, which falls under the national AmeriCorps program.
So far, Arkansas is one of five states that hosts the program, but more states are expected to be included after the end of the upcoming contract year. There have been 14 host sites in Arkansas, and 5,200 Energy Corps members have served in the five host states since the program’s beginning in 2009.
Terry, her organization and members are hoping there will be many more to come because our country and state still have a long way to go.
If you are interested in becoming a host site for an Energy Corps member, contact Holly Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org by Aug. 15.