Over the weekend of January 16-18, 2016, Southface staff members assisted in weatherizing a home in Decatur for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Project. The project began 16 years ago and is now an annual tradition in Decatur. Community volunteers gather over the three-day weekend to lend their time, materials and expertise in helping repair and restore some of Decatur’s oldest buildings and parks.
The Southface team was stationed at a home on South McDonough Street. The tasks at hand included clearing overgrowth in the yard and installing insulation in the attic and basement. These small changes will increase energy-efficiency, save money and improve heat flow in the house.
Southface has volunteered for this service project for the past ten years, and the number of volunteers has increased each year. We had a total of 17 volunteers this year who possessed the energy and know-how to perform home standards testing and weatherization. At the heart of improving homes with the hope of fortifying them for the winter months is confirming that they’re meeting safe building standards. Working in tandem with students who were clearing out overgrowth and debris in the yards, Southface staffers focused their work on making the home more energy efficient and comfortable, hoping to save the homeowners money on utility bills.
In years prior, Southface tried to work on multiple houses over the three-day weekend, but found more efficiency in working to make sure one home had all the necessary protections against frigid air. Mike Barcik, a senior engineer on the commercial team, has participated in the service project for the last 10 years and has seen it progress from small home repairs to full-fledged weatherization. “One thing that we did this year, we kind of scaled back a little bit, because we’d been trying to do two houses [in previous years], weatherization-wise and spreading our resources out and it meant that neither house got finished,” Barcik said. Last year, Barcik ended up going back with a few others to finish the remaining tasks and ensure the home was ready for insulation.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Service Project is in its 16th year in Decatur and Southface has had volunteer teams for the past ten years. “I think it’s also a great way for people like you, our interns, to come and actually get your hands dirty and learn the joy of crawling around in a crawlspace,” Barcik told me. “And I think that’s how you actually learn a lot of skills in construction, is that you just go out and help.”
In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Rachel Bowden, a former Southface intern and current Operations and Communications Organizer, reflects on her two volunteer experiences installing insulation with the Southface team, feeling her comfort level increase each year.
At the end of the project, the satisfaction of coming together with fellow community-members to restore a house to a home makes it well-worth the cold mornings outside, the insulation itchiness and the tight crawlspaces. “Those are people’s homes we’re dealing with,” Bowden said. “Homes are supposed to be the center of comfort, joy, laughter and family,” Bowden said. “And when you hear stories about homeowners who can’t have their grandchildren come into the house because their asthma spikes when they walk through the door…that’s terrible. So if we can do something small (like taping insulation to ductwork) that results in something big (like bringing family together), that’s pretty cool…”