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Bethany students raising awareness about weatherization; Class is teaming up with MVAC to help with various programs

Saturday, October 26, 2013

MANKATO — Bethany Lutheran College students are using some class time for a good cause, partnering with Minnesota Valley Action Council to raise awareness and funds for programs.

For Shane Bowyer's Principles of Management class, students for the second year have split into groups of four or five and devoted a semester to one of MVAC's many programs. For the first time one of the groups is focusing on raising awareness about the Weatherization Assistance Program, which MVAC is happy about.

Judd Schultz, housing services director, said years ago the weatherization program was once federally funded at $260 million. Last year it was $78 million, which means many more low-income households that need weatherization assistance aren't receiving it.

“Right now there's sort of a stigma with government programs. And I know the country's trying to save money and cut and cut and cut, but we really need to look at the impact (those cuts) are having,” Schultz said.

Mariah Schultz, a student in the Bethany class, said her group plans to create a video, including testimonials from previous weatherization recipients, to put on MVAC's website. She and her group recently went to a home in Le Center to film a home being prepared for cold weather.

The video will outline the process, which focuses mainly on health and safety. Judd Schultz said crews test the furnace, water heater, duct work, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They use a device to check for the energy leaks in the home, and they install insulation and air sealing, among other things, to “tighten up the house” and make it more energy efficient.

Judd Schultz said low-income households become eligible after they apply for energy assistance through MVAC. The organization then runs reports on homes that qualify for weatherization services, and priority is given to houses with elderly or young children, among other special qualifications.

He said families often save 30 percent on energy bills. The average cost of labor and materials being put into each home by MVAC is between $4,000 and $4,500. MVAC services between 150 and 180 homes annually.

“Every measure is designed to pay for itself in five years,” Judd Schultz said.

Mariah Schultz said she's excited to be working on the timely project because October is National Weatherization Month and Oct. 30 is National Weatherization Day.

“It's not a well-known program, but it does so much good for our community,” she said. “They're really not only helping the family, but helping (to save) energy.”

Other student groups are working on a winter clothing drive and various fundraisers for MVAC.

Bowyer said the purpose of the class is for students to come up with their own real-world projects while helping MVAC at the same time.

“The class is about teamwork and project management,” he said. “It's been a good relationship with (MVAC), and we'd like to keep it going.”

Minnesota Valley Action Council will stay open late several evenings in November to help people with their Energy Assistance applications.

MVAC, at 706 N. Victory Drive in Mankato, will be open until 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in November. In the last five weeks, MVAC has received about 4,300 applications from low-income families seeking assistance with their heating bills this winter.

Last year MVAC served more than 6,000 families in eight counties. With MVAC providing Energy Assistance services in Brown County as well, more than 7,000 applications are expected this year.

Energy Assistance is available to both homeowners and renters who qualify under the income requirements. For a single person, gross income must be less than $5,673 in the preceding three months.

For a family of four, the income ceiling is $10,910 in three months. MVAC encourages eligible people to apply for assistance as soon as possible.

People facing disconnection because they are behind on their payments should contact their utility company and arrange a payment plan. Heat can be shut off during the winter if a payment plan isn't in place. Source: Jim Gehrke, awareness coordinator for MVAC.

Mankato Free Press