Home, Sweet Home
On Wednesday, August 17, the Community Conservation Corps (CCC) of Furman University celebrated a significant milestone: the weatherization of its 100th home—and the 50th home it has improved in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County.
Established as an AmeriCorps program in 2011 and hosted by Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability, the CCC aims to enhance the quality of life in underserved communities, decrease homeowners’ energy bills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Greenville area.
The group launched its partnership with Habitat for Humanity in 2013 as a happy marriage of common goals. At the time, Furman was seeking opportunities to recruit a bigger pool of volunteers beyond students, and Habitat for Humanity was looking to expand their reach into repair and weatherization work. “The important thing about this partnership, which has worked incredibly well, is that together we are able to help more low-income families,” says Monroe Free, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County.
“We’re super-thrilled about the partnership,” echoes Joey Espinosa ’98, who took over as Furman’s CCC program coordinator in July 2015. “When I go around to communities and tell people I work for Furman and work with Habitat for Humanity, those are two names that people in the Greenville area know and trust.”
The homeowner of the 100th home is Eunice Bennett, whose father built the house near downtown Greenville, in which she now lives, in the late 1950s. “It’s a blessing to be part of this program,” says the mother of five, who is retired from Bon Secours St. Francis Health System where she worked as a secretary for 24 years. “This house has always been in Mrs. Bennett’s family, and we’re happy to be able to keep her in it longer as opposed to her having to move because the house is not in good shape or too expensive to live in,” Espinosa notes.
Bennett found out about the weatherization program through her son-in-law, Reggie Garrett ’98, who was on Espinosa’s hall during his freshman year at Furman. Garrett moved back to the Upstate from Atlanta in 2015 to be the pastor at Jubilee Baptist Church in Taylors, the oldest African-American Church in the Upstate (est. 1864). After they reconnected through a mutual friend, Reverend Garrett and Espinosa got together, and Joey told the pastor about the CCC program. “Reggie took a few brochures and applications and he passed them on to family members and people in his church,” explains Espinosa. As it happens, Garrett’s mother-in-law applied and qualified.
“This couldn’t happen to a more deserving lady!” Rev. Garrett exclaims. “Her house is the family epicenter where everyone gathers at holidays. It’s fantastic to know that the home will be safe and sound and sealed up.”
Thanks to a generous grant from Piedmont Natural Gas and other funding, the weatherization work is completed at no cost to eligible homeowners. The work differs depending on the need. After a homeowner gets approved, the CCC pays for an energy audit. In Bennett’s home, the CCC and Habitat for Humanity made sure there was insulation in the attic and crawl space, checked the AC, and repaired and resealed the ductwork. They put in energy-efficient light bulbs and did weather stripping and caulking and sealing around windows, doors and walls where air might be leaking out. Low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators were also installed. These improvements can potentially save a homeowner up to $300 a year in utility bills.
Several Furman students joined in to volunteer. In addition to helping area homeowners, the students have the opportunity to see first-hand what sustainability looks like and learn ways they can save money on energy when they own or rent a home one day. Mary Stone ’16 volunteered to don a hazmat suit to seal gaps in the floor of Bennett’s house. “I only had a couple of hours to volunteer that day,” she says, “so I was glad I could do something really useful with that time.”
Furman tracks the energy usage of all the homeowners in the program, both before they weatherize the home and up to two years afterward. Because of the work the CCC has done, homeowners use less electricity, less natural gas, and less water. This energy offset is converted into metric tons of CO2 for every home weatherized.
“Since the CCC began, we have reduced energy usage in the Greenville area by 300 metric tons of CO2,” Espinosa reports. “This is the equivalent of burning of 300,000 pounds of coal or planting 240 acres of forest.” And Furman can claim the energy savings accomplished through the CCC towards the university’s overall energy goal to become carbon neutral by 2026.
“Making a difference in the lives of the people who built this community for decades is very rewarding to me,” says Espinosa. “Every one of those 100 homes and every family has a unique story, and we at Furman and the CCC are thankful for the opportunity to give back to our community. We look forward to serving another 100 homeowners, and more.”