News

Celebrate Community Solar with SEVCA on Oct. 25!

SEVCA is celebrating the achievement of a critical milestone in our new project, Community Solar for Community Action, and we’d love for you to come celebrate with us!

SEVCA is constructing a solar array at our main office in Westminster, the energy from which will be used to reduce the high energy burdens of area households with low incomes, helping them to keep their homes heated and their utilities on. This innovative project, developed in partnership with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), will showcase a new, nationally replicable model of energy assistance that addresses energy poverty and environmental sustainability at the same time. Complementing our home weatherization and crisis fuel programs, Community Solar for Community Action (CS4CA) will be an important new tool in our efforts to ensure that all vulnerable households can meet their energy needs now and in the future.

We are pleased to announce that the first phase of CS4CA, the ground-mounted solar array, has been completed!
SEVCA will be dedicating the project to the memory of Harald Schmidtke, SEVCA’s Weatherization Director of 25 years, who passed away on April 2. CS4CA will be a fitting memorial to Harald, whose dedication to improving the lives of our neighbors and the sustainability of our community was unwavering throughout his tenure at SEVCA.

You are invited to join us at the CS4CA Dedication Ceremony:

Thursday, October 25
3:30 PM – 5 PM
SEVCA’s Office
91 Buck Drive, Westminster, VT

Refreshments will be served. Let us know you’re coming by sending an email to Linda Brooks at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call (802) 722-4575.

CS4CA was developed as part of the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Catamount Solar, a Vermont-based, employee-owned solar contractor, was selected to install the array. We would like to thank all our project supporters, including the Windham Regional Commission and dozens of local contributors, who have made this project possible.

 

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Join Us at "Solar Baroque" Benefit Concert on Oct. 28

CAMEO Arts Foundation Concert to Fundraise for Solar Project

We are thrilled to announce that CAMEO Arts Foundation will be holding a concert to benefit SEVCA’s Community Solar for Community Action project. Enjoy an afternoon of soothing Baroque music and support SEVCA at the same time! Featuring local musicians, who donate their time and talent to our cause, the concert will be both inspiring and entertaining. Admission is by donation.

Solar Baroque Benefit Concert
DATE & TIME: October 28 at 4 PM
VENUE: Church of Christ at Dartmouth College, 40 College St., Hanover, NH
PERFORMERS: Leslie Stroud, traverso (Baroque flute); Beth Hilgartner, recorders; Laurie Rabut, viola da gamba; and Ernie Drown, harpsichord.

The CAMEO Arts Foundation organizes and underwrites benefit concerts in the Vermont/ New Hampshire region, so that communities have access to high quality, affordable live music, and organizations that work to meet basic human needs receive much-needed support. CAMEO Baroque specializes in music of the Baroque era performed on modern copies of original instruments.

 CAMEO

Weatherization Director Harald Schmidtke's Legacy Honored

On May 31 at its Annual Celebration, SEVCA honored former Weatherization Director, Harald Schmidtke, a much-loved community leader, colleague, and friend, who passed away on April 2.

As SEVCA's Weatherization Director, Harald dedicated the past 25 years of his life to reducing energy costs and improving the lives of vulnerable Windham and Windsor County residents. SEVCA staff, Board, supporters, and friends gathered at the American Legion Post 67 in Chester, VT to celebrate and reflect on the enormous and lasting contribution Harald has made to the community through his leadership of the Weatherization Program. 

SEVCA staff, other members of the statewide Weatherization network, and other colleagues spoke about their relationship with Harald and his impact on their lives. Attending the event were Harald’s children, Carol, Max, and Nicole, who expressed their heartfelt thanks for honoring their father and being part of Harald’s extended family during his lifetime.

SEVCA’s Executive Director Steve Geller, who worked closely with Harald for the past 14 years, said, “What stands out the most about Harald’s legacy is the fact that he was fiercely committed to not just his program and his staff, but to all of SEVCA and our mission, and to the success of the entire Community Action movement and the War on Poverty. This was a deeply heartfelt cause for him, not just a job.”

Gloria Dawson, former SEVCA Executive Director who hired Harald in 1993, shared how much she respected and relied on Harald, saying he was “…strong-willed, but loyal, and he had a heart of gold. He had a lot of compassion, he never wanted to see people struggling. His staff loved Harald, they respected him. He was tough on them, but they knew he would go to bat for them,she said.

Geoff Wilcox, Weatherization Program Administrator at the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), served as keynote speaker and shared his experiences of working closely with Harald over the past two decades. “He created a team atmosphere that was conducive to succeeding. Harald showed the same respect for a new crew hire as he did for his Operations Manager. To him, people were people no matter their title or circumstance in life, and you treated them respectfully and kindly.”

Geoff also reflected on how Harald’s life epitomized what makes the Weatherization program special. “Beyond how we save low income families money on their heating and electric bills, beyond how we make their homes warmer, and beyond how we many times change their lives and instill hope into them, a huge benefit of the Weatherization program is how it has improved the lives of the folks (like Harald and thousands of others like him) who get to work in it. Harald and I have this in common along with so many others. We found our calling, we realized how rewarding it is to help others, and to work with others who have that same drive and desire to help people in need….We found our purpose in life. We became Weatherization ‘lifers’.”

Former Weatherization client Janice Hastings also shared her appreciation for Harald and how much he cared about everyone he helped. Janice said that when she thanked Harald and the Weatherization Department for all the work they’d done to make her home warm and safe, “Harald turned around and said, ‘Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help improve your life.’”

Weatherization staff received a “Beyond the Call of Duty” award from Executive Director Steve Geller, who praised the department for coming together during the difficult circumstances of Harald’s illness and loss and developing and executing a plan to get the program back on track. He said that the commitment and team spirit that they displayed was an inspiration for all of us.

Client Survey Reveals Hardships of Poverty

As part of SEVCA’s triennial Community Assessment, which helps us assess our programs in terms of the needs in our service area, we surveyed a sample of our clients in May and June, and received 218 responses. Results indicate that hardship for the low income households we serve is persistent and severe, with minor improvement since the last time we surveyed our clients in 2015. Here are some of the preliminary results:

  • Households with lower incomes struggle just to meet their basic needs. 62% of those surveyed said their household income is not enough to meet their family’s basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.). 59% said they have had to borrow money or use their credit cards just to pay for their basic needs.
  • Chronic lack of adequate income or even a period of financial stress can lead to a debt trap for many lower-income households. 58% of survey respondents said they can’t afford the monthly payments on their debt, and 60% said they can’t get credit or have bad credit. 74% said they are unable to save money regularly.
  • Few opportunities other than low-wage work are available to this population. Among lower-income workers surveyed, 72% said that most of the jobs they can get don’t pay well, and 74% said they and/or their partner had to work more than 40 hours/week just to pay the bills.
  • More education and/or training is needed to help households move out of poverty. 54% of respondents said they need more education or training to get a better job, and 67% of this group said they are not able to afford the education or training program they need. 50% said they would like to start a business but need more support and training.
  • Many people in lower-income households are no longer able to work. A large proportion of those we surveyed were disabled and unable to work (32%) and/or retired (24%) and on fixed incomes.
  • Housing costs represent one of the most persistent barriers to sustainability for low-income households. 70% of respondents felt there was not enough affordable, safe housing in their area, and 56% said that they have a hard time paying their rent and/or mortgage. 24% said they are behind in their rent or mortgage payments, and are therefore at risk of homelessness. Housing subsidies are scarce: only 16% of those surveyed had rental assistance or lived in affordable housing.
  • Housing quality is also a concern, with 77% of lower-income homeowners surveyed saying that their home needs major repairs but they can’t afford them. 42% of all respondents said that their home or apartment was cold in the winter and/or not insulated well.
  • Most lower income households have trouble making ends meet despite receiving at least some public benefits. For example, 76% of survey respondents received 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps), yet 47% said they sometimes skip meals to save money on food, one of the indicators of food insecurity.
  • Lack of access to dental care emerged as a major issue among the households surveyed, with 54% saying that they have a hard time finding dentists that take their insurance (additionally, many said they had no dental care benefits and couldn’t afford to go see a dentist). In comparison, only 14% said they had a hard time finding doctors that take their insurance. 57% of the respondents indicated they had Medicaid / Dr. Dinosaur, 41% had Medicare, and 20% had a VT Health Connect medical plan.
  • Mental health is also a significant concern for many lower-income households. Mental health challenges and poverty often go hand in hand, often brought on due to the stresses of living in poverty. 47% of survey respondents say they or someone in their family needs help with a problem like depression, anxiety / stress, or other mental health issue. 54% of the sample felt that there were not enough mental health and substance abuse resources in their communities.

  • Public transportation not feasible for most, and affording car repair/maintenance is a serious barrier. 76% of respondents said that public transportation does not go where they need to go at the times they need it, and most people need to rely on their cars. However, 74% of those with a car said they had a hard time maintaining it and 80% said if their car needs a major repair, they won’t be able to afford to fix it. 45% of respondents said that the cost of gasoline makes it hard for them to get or keep a job, and 40% said other difficulties with transportation did so.

 

Don’t “Fall Back” into bad financial habits—Get Financially Fit!

Time to register for SEVCA's upcoming “Financial Fitness” workshop series, to be held in Brattleboro starting September 19. This 7-part workshop series will help participants improve their relationship with money, develop strong financial habits, and take steps toward prosperity. SEVCA’s instructors will utilize tools from the acclaimed Your Money Your Goals curriculum developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Topics covered include: saving, spending, credit, home buying, insurance, purchasing a car, and saving for college. The instructor will also provide individualized financial coaching, as needed, to help participants and their families become more financially secure.

The workshop series is free and open to the public. It will be held at Winston Prouty Center, Holton Hall, 130 Austine Dr., Brattleboro from 5:30-7 p.m. on the following dates: Wednesdays on Sept. 19 and 26, and Tuesdays from Oct. 2 to Oct 30. Pre-registration is required. Please call Susan Dillon to register at 802-722-4575, ext. 151, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Nothing could be worse than the fear that one had given up too soon, and left one unexpended effort that might have saved the world. ”

Jane Addams (U.S. social worker, 1860-1935)