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Alberta Powers

A Beautiful Experience
Alberta Powers’ Story

Alberta Powers is a Detroit resident who has deeply benefited from our Energy Efficiency Assistance program. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is one of the handful of groups in Detroit that has been commissioned by DTE Energy (the city’s largest electric utility company), to help income insecure DTE customers in Detroit reduce their energy bills by providing them with energy efficient furnaces, boilers, water heaters, refrigerators, and LED light bulbs.

Studies have shown that in Detroit, many residents often pay a disproportionately high amount of their income on their energy bills, as a result of living in poorly weatherized single or multi-family homes with old and inefficient household appliances. Sometimes, Detroiters even live without basic access to heat or refrigeration and do not possess the financial resources to purchase new household appliances. Energy Efficiency Assistance programs across the city, including DWEJ’s, attempt to mitigate the negative effects of energy poverty in the community. 

“I was in need of a furnace really, really bad at the time,” Powers explained. “I had to connect the two wires of my furnace in order to get a current started so I could heat my house. I was in desperate need of a furnace because my grandchildren would come to my house while their mother would go to work. It was a real blessing when I received the call from Carla (DWEJ’s Energy Efficiency Specialist). I told her I needed a furnace and the following week, a young gentleman showed up to my house and told me that the conditions in which I was living were dangerous—that I could seriously injure myself by continuing to connect the wires for my furnace. And within that same week, he came back to my house and installed a new furnace for me!”

“I had a beautiful experience,” Powers continued. “I was so blessed that I received that call and that you were able to provide me with a new furnace… I cannot express the impact this overall experience has had on me, it was a miracle.”

Power’s story is not uncommon in Detroit. Stories like hers keep us motivated to continue fighting for our community’s right to live in healthy and safe homes.

Building A New Detroit Workforce
Anthony Kashat’s Story

Part of Detroit’s resurgence is removing the old to make way for the new. But what happens when there’s a shortage of workers to make it all happen in an environmentally forward way?

Take, for example, the many abandoned and blighted homes in Detroit.  Once a home is ready to be torn down, it has to be surveyed for any toxic materials or pollutants on site—most commonly lead and asbestos. Then, those materials have to be removed in a clean and safe manner.

For years, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice’s Workforce Training program has helped train city residents in aspects of this work. But recently, demand has increased for workers who can build on their initial training and grow into more advanced positions—with better pay. That’s why DWEJ has developed its Future Build program, which advances the skills of Detroiters who have basic work training, employing them in living-wage jobs with a focus on repairing and protecting the environment.

“As the head of an environmental service company, I’m not looking for laborers,” says Anthony Kashat, principal and co-founder of AKT Peerless, which provides environmental and energy solutions in Detroit and beyond. “I need individuals who have a foundation of training and want to take their career in the next direction.”

Kashat, who has partnered closely with DWEJ on the Workforce Training program since its inception—and hired trainees who completed the curriculum—says he’s now eager to partner with Future Build.

“I’m looking to hire people who can do environmental survey work,” he says. Because his company has large numbers of homes slated for demolition, he needs surveyors who can assess whether there’s asbestos or lead in the home, and identify any toxic materials present. The surveyors then generate a report, which Kashat gives to the abatement companies so the toxic materials can be removed safely.

“We’ll pay these people, and get them the training and experience they need,” Kashat says. “But they have to be ready to take their career to the next level.”

He says Future Build is a missing link—a program that gives people with entry-level skills the opportunity to advance. “It can help the right people be able to grow.”

Being Part of a Green Detroit
Heather Barnes’ Story

Heather Barnes has lived in Detroit her whole life. She knows it’s a city that’s always changing, and she took DWEJ’s Workforce Training program as a way to understand how she could be a part of that change.

“DWEJ training opened me up to possibilities,” Heather says. Part of the curriculum included meeting speakers who came to class to talk about their different industries. One of those speakers was Anthony Kashat, owner of AKT Peerless, a green environmental consulting company. His company was hiring, and they found the right candidate in Heather.

“I started out doing project assistance and administrative work three to four hours a day,” Heather explains. “Going through the training, I had an understanding of what the business was. It gave me a feel for what they do.”

After graduating from the Workforce Training program, Heather began working for AKT Peerless full-time and grew her position. She now provides project setup, billing and accounting work for AKT Peerless offices in Detroit, Atlanta and California.

“I found (that) my niche is organization skills,” says Heather. “Tony has been great about allowing me to use my skill sets and encouraging me to keep my certifications up to date.”

Now, Heather’s son, David, is interning at AKT Peerless while he attends college at Eastern Michigan University. It may not be a coincidence that this work is generational: Heather says that during Workforce Training, she would go home and teach her sons about environmental justice. “That way, I was educating them along with myself,” she says.

She believes that it’s a critical time for people to understand what a “green Detroit” really means. “I think people need to be better educated to understand the benefits and what green industry is,” she says. “Who wouldn’t want to protect our environment and live healthier lives? But people need to realize that it’s not some fancy, intellectual idea. It’s something everyone can embrace. Change is happening in Detroit. We all can and should be part of it.”

Collaborating for a Better Future
Dolores Perales’ Story

Dolores Perales and her mom thought maybe Dolores was just working out too hard. As a high school athlete, Dolores would play sports and “always be out of breath.” It got so bad that she started sitting out competitions. Finally, Dolores’s mom took her to the doctor, and she was given a diagnosis: asthma.

It wasn’t just Dolores, though. Her little brother had the same condition. And a close cousin down the street in her Mexicantown neighborhood in Detroit had asthma as well.

According to a 2016 Newsweek article, Detroiters are hospitalized for their asthma three times more frequently than other Michiganders. Now, Dolores is using those statistics and her own experiences as motivation to, in her words, “make changes in my own life.” As a junior at Michigan State, she’s studying environmental studies, sustainability, and epidemiology. Through education and community outreach, she is “finding ways that things can get better.”

One of those ways is to work with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, a nonprofit committed to improving air quality in Detroit, and an organization that has joined with DWEJ on a project called Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments (CA-PHE). The CA-PHE initiative is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and involves research through the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

“Having help from other companies and nonprofits that share the same vision—it’s amazing to see all these people coming out and making it happen,” Dolores says.

She says DWEJ’s input on policy is critical, “so we know how to make changes happen or how they can physically be made. By working together, I feel like we get the end goals done to help the community out.”

As a Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision field supervisor over the summer, Dolores also oversees volunteers who are working on infrastructure projects that dovetail with DWEJ’s own community work. This includes cleaning up lots, building rain gardens, and grant writing to create green spaces.

“Pollutants in the air have had a huge influence on my health,” Dolores says. “You can’t really escape, and sometimes it can make life hard. Together, we’re making the necessary change so people in the future don’t have to deal with these issues.”

The Lesters

After the Rain
Eddie and Minnie Lesters’ Story

When it rains, it pours.

Eddie and Minnie Lester know this all too well.

In their Southeast Waterfront Neighborhood in Detroit, heavy rains in recent years have flooded homes, closed streets, backed up sewers, and generally wreaked havoc.

“We’re afraid every time it rains that our basement is going to flood,” says Minnie.

And with good reason. Research by Professor Larissa Larsen at the University of Michigan says that heavy rains are up 45 percent in the last five years in Michigan. In and around Detroit, this spells disaster as the aging sewer and water infrastructure fails to keep pace with the deluge.

But with help from DWEJ, the Lesters have been able to make changes that help keep the water from seeping inside their home—as well as other homes in the neighborhood. “DWEJ came into the community and informed the people about the environment and what we can do to help protect ourselves,” says Lester.

The proposed solutions included rain gardens, bioswales designed to help carry runoff surface water, rain barrels, and downspouts. Lester says DWEJ helped them install these much-needed tools.

So far, it seems to be working. “The majority of times we don’t have any rain but when it does rain, we have an overflow,” says Lester. “That’s where the rain gardens, and bioswales are helping alleviate the water going down into the structure of the homes and the basements.”

With DWEJ’s help, the Lesters also formed a climate ambassadors group in their community. The ambassadors provide “information regarding climate change and what we can do to help with the backups, or how to contact the city and let them know what problems we’re having.”

Lester adds that DWEJ also helped him establish a youth climate ambassadors team, comprising five teenagers.

“We are continuing with educating the community in regards to the rain gardens and rain barrels. DWEJ came in and showed us how, and now we’ve learned how to do it ourselves and can show others.” 

“I’ve always looked for ways that I can find resources or make connections to ensure that our communities are sustainable, that people and natural resources are taken care of. They all kind of led to DWEJ, and DWEJ has been a support arm for my work.”

A Passion for Sustainability
Alessandra Carreon’s Story

When Alessandra Carreon’s father took her on visits to his native country, the Philippines, she saw the rural area where he grew up and the lush tropical landscape all around. But with every trip, she also witnessed how the trees were stripped away to make room for development.     

“I had a firsthand example to see how my dad’s home country changed over time,” she says. “The way that people are connected to their environment influences me, and I’m drawn to the way people interact with their environment.”

That influence plays out in her day job as a Materials Regulatory Engineer at Ford Motor Company, where she works to “formulate policies [with] corporate social responsibility in mind,” as well as her work volunteering for DWEJ as a member of the steering committee for the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative

In that role, she’s helped guide the direction of DWEJ’s Climate Action Plan, which will give the city a long-term plan to mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

Carreon says this work then dovetailed organically into her volunteer work with DWEJ’s Climate Ambassador Program, which engages Detroit residents in community-based climate action projects. For Carreon, this included working in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood providing green infrastructure training, as well as building rain gardens. 

She says long-term sustainability is dependent on how well communities collaborate. “Climate change is not confined to a single city. In Detroit, it might seem like we only put in six rain gardens, but that has a lot of downstream impact that other neighborhoods can benefit from.” 

DWEJ has helped Carreon fulfill her passion to see communities thrive in sustainability. 

“I’ve always looked for ways that I can find resources or make connections to ensure that our communities are sustainable, that people and natural resources are taken care of. They all kind of led to DWEJ, and DWEJ has been a support arm for my work.”

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