By Karen Spurgeon
Publisher, Bloomfield Democrat
Sarah Leer, an AmeriCorps worker with Bloomfield’s Energy Efficiency Department, is hailed as a hero by Geraldine Arnold and her daughter Cathy Stevens, who live across the street from each other on West Franklin.
“She is a miracle worker. I don’t know what we would have done without her,” Stevens said after Leer managed to work with Jearld Scott of USDA to obtain grant money to repair the roof and install handicapped fixtures in the 87-year-old Arnold’s bathroom. Leer and fellow AmeriCorps worker Glen Davison were also able to help the Stevenses with weatherizing their home.
The story began in early August when Energy Efficiency Director Chris Ball was searching city records for the top 10 residential energy users in Bloomfield based on energy costs per square foot.
Greg and Cathy Stevens’ home was on the list, and no one could understand why the home should be so inefficient. The blower door test conducted by Leer and Davison revealed the answer.
Stevens said when they moved into the home, the furnace was in the ceiling and the original furnace vents were not hooked up to the present furnace. The blower door test revealed which vents were not hooked up and where the huge energy losses were occurring for Greg and Cathy.
The Stevenses are now in the process of making application to the City of Bloomfield for on-bill financing to solve their energy problems.
While working at the Stevenses’ house, Leer and Davison learned that Arnold needed a new roof. Two days later, the two AmeriCorps workers visited Arnold and did an energy assessment on her home.
Leer and Davison learned that Arnold had replaced the back half of her roof, but couldn’t afford to replace the entire roof at one time. They also found out she needed a shower stall with a seat rather than just a tub in her bathroom, and also thought a handicapped stool would be beneficial at her age.
“When you’re 87, everything seems to wrong,” Arnold said.
Leer knew about the USDA grant from her own personal experience. “I look into all the options,” she said. “When you’re a single parent, you find a way to get things done.”
Leer took Stevens and Arnold to visit Jearld (Jake) Scott at the USDA office to seek a loan to fix the roof and renovate the bathroom at the same time.
“Geraldine received $7500, and she’ll not have to pay it back,” Leer said. “She and Cathy were in tears when they left that office.
“I try to keep my eyes open for people who may need this. I know what the needs are to qualify,” Leer added. “I’m constantly looking for ways to help people who can’t afford the improvements they need.”
Cathy added, “Sarah goes above and beyond to help people. This is such a relief to me. Greg had a stroke and was off work for two years. We couldn’t help finance my mother’s project.”
“That’s the best part of my job,” Sarah replied.
Leer and Davison also did some caulking on Arnold’s house and will be re-running the blower door test after the roof is replaced this month.
Geraldine is grateful for the help she has received through AmeriCorps.
“I’ve lived here 66 years,” she said. “They did a good job.”
“I just want everyone to know how much we appreciate Sarah,” Cathy said.
Leer said when the team began doing energy assessments, they asked themselves what they could do to give additional assistance beyond the scope of the project if needed.
“We knew about Jake and his USDA programs, and Chris and I met with him. Jake is wonderful; he doesn’t say ‘no’; he just tells us what we have to do to make it happen,” she said.
Sarah has related several instances where the team has made significant differences in the lives of Bloomfield residents.
In one house, the heating and air units were wired wrong and both came on at the same time. That problem was responsible for a top 10 rating on the energy inefficiency list.
The team is now working with property owners to weatherize rental properties. They have found that energy inefficiency causes a high rate of turnover in rentals and property owners will be more likely to retain tenants if their utility costs are reduced.
Leer said the AmeriCorps team donated their time to insulate and air-seal one rental property. “The blower door test numbers were cut in half and you could tell a difference on the first day,” she said with a feeling of satisfaction.
Leer also said the program has Area 15 grant funds to install rim joists in homes that have leakage where the foundation meets the walls. NCCC workers completed the work on 14 homes, but Leer said there is enough funding to do 14 or 15 more homes that are owner-occupied.
The job is accomplished by removing fiberglass insulation and installing rigid foam board.
Even though the AmeriCorps workers are making a difference in the lives of Bloomfield residents and reducing energy consumption, there is more that needs to be done.
“We’re limited to what we can do, even though we care about these people,” Sarah said.
“We need people to donate carpentry skills. We could use retired or semi-retired people to come and perhaps even oversee the work we’re doing and analyze what needs to be done,” she said.
“We need more AmeriCorps workers,” she added, noting that the goal is to perform energy assessments and weatherize 100 more homes by the end of February.
“We have assessed 203 homes for 521 individuals saving a total of $13,500 per year in utility costs for city residents so far this year.”
Commenting on AmeriCorps wages, Sarah said, “Putting in a lot of hours for less than minimum wage to make a difference in the town I live in is more than enough payment.”
Karen Spurgeon, Publisher of The Bloomfield Democrat, has granted Volunteer Iowa permission to reprint this article originally published in the Oct. 5, 2016 issue of The Bloomfield Democrat.