Darlene Kucken is a volunteer for Green Built Alliance’s Energy Savers Network. Through volunteers, the network installs energy-efficiency measures in homes with limited income in Western North Carolina.
How long have you been volunteering, and what inspired you to do so?
I have volunteered for GBA’s Energy Savers Network for about five years. When I retired, I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve always worked for environmental issues, both personally and professionally. It’s increasingly hard to pay bills with rising energy costs. Yet there are many ways to reduce energy demands; some are simple and cost little. Our volunteer work is an educational opportunity to help people see how little changes can make a difference. Our great crew leaders also inspire me to sign up as often as I can.
What have you learned about the individuals you serve?
I’m surprised at how many individuals within Buncombe County need our services. I have met folks with many stories of ill health, loss of job, raising grandchildren, caring for a relative or renting from a landlord that simply doesn’t care about the rental unit conditions. Every client has been grateful for what we do for the household; they are kind, thankful, interested and often help us. Sometimes we are even treated to coffee or lunch. Every person I have met has needed our help.
What has been the greatest reward related to the work you do?
It is very rewarding to measure the energy efficiency of a home before and after our work — and find we have increased energy efficiency of the home by 25% and more. That’s not counting the increased efficiency from changing to LED bulbs and installing water-efficient devices. This can result in reduced energy bills — which means more money for medicines and food. Secondly, I have learned so much. I have become more confident and skilled at using some basic tools and energy-saving practices.
What advice would you offer those thinking about volunteering?
Just sign up! The crew leaders and experienced volunteers are all very helpful. You will only be asked to work at your level of comfort. We all work together on a crew. Usually, there are three to four volunteers, so plenty of help is available to you. You’ll learn skills to implement on your home. The website makes it easy to sign up, either by date or by a map. With more volunteers, we can reach out and help more folks. The need is here, and your time will be greatly appreciated.