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Our Outreach Team: Promoting Smarter Energy Use For All, One Person at a Time

Tony at IAFC Cares BrunchElevate Energy is dedicated to promoting smarter energy use for all through many different programs—upgrading multifamily buildings and childcare centersimproving the visibility of energy efficiency in the real estate market, administering dynamic pricing programs for ComEd and Ameren—the list goes on. However, none of these programs would succeed without the hard work of our incredible Outreach Team of field organizers. The term “community organizing” can sound confusing and obscure to those who aren’t familiar with it, and you may be wondering why an organization working on something as technical as energy efficiency would have an entire team devoted to it. We want to shed a bit of light on the vital work our organizers do every single day.

house-partyIn a nutshell, our Outreach Team is constantly on-the-go building relationships in the communities we serve and educating residents about the numerous benefits of energy efficiency; Field Organizer Tony Diaz is pictured above explaining how energy efficient power strips work at the Illinois Action for Children Cares Brunch. They also communicate with community leaders about how we can best meet their community’s needs. They educate consumers across Illinois with innovative tactics such as energy house parties; Regional Lead Field Organizer Elizabeth Corrado is pictured at left hosting a house party at the home of Jerome McDonnell, host of WBEZ’s Worldview program.

We sat down with Field Organizer Mike Harrington to get a better picture of how our Outreach Team helps us connect communities with energy-reducing, money-saving resources:

How did you first gain experience in community organizing and outreach?

“I wanted to become more involved with the community, and I did an Americorps fellowship with Public Allies and completed formal community organizing training there. My first project focused on finding solutions to environmental problems with Uptown United. I created a recycling program with Truman College. Then, I completed the Chicago Conservation Corps training and completed some more organizing training around environmental topics. I got a lot of experience applying what I learned conducting environmental surveys around the country with the University of Illinois at Chicago before I came to Elevate.”

2015 outreach numbersWhat’s a typical day like for a field organizer?

“I wouldn’t say there’s ever a typical day since we’re always running around talking to new people, but I’m constantly trying to find organizations to build and maintain relationships with. There’s a big customer service component, as I follow up with people who have expressed interest in energy assessments or the dynamic pricing programs at outreach events we’ve appeared at. With that said, we go to multiple events a week to spread the word about Elevate’s programs. We give presentations to community groups, like the Chinese American Service League [pictured below], schools, legislative bodies, etc. or set up tables at community events. We have to be really knowledgeable about all of Elevate’s programmatic areas, but also be able to answer people’s questions in ways that will make sense to them.”

casl photoHow do you build and maintain community relationships?

“I was trained on a lot of organizing theory along with my practical application of that theory. I tend to follow a concept called asset-based community development (ABCD), which involves examining a community to see what already exists there and how that can be used to improve the community (churches, groups, parks, businesses, etc.). I try to find agents of positive change and connect with them.

A lot of it is asking lots of questions, being connected to other people, and navigating the networks of a community. Our team utilizes one-on-one meetings where we converse with people about the needs of their community, what their vision for positive change is, and how Elevate’s programs can help facilitate that change. I’m a big believer in having the dialogue about what communities need and want and what knowledge exists in those communities as opposed to just assuming we have all the answers. One-on-ones are really useful ways to discover events and other connections. Plus, face-to-face connections are always the most impactful.”

How is your work critical to what Elevate does and the overall mission?

“We distribute the “word” of what Elevate does and are able to put a face on Elevate and show that the organization is involved in the community. Our work helps people think of us as community advocates, which is a huge part of our mission.”

What’s your favorite part of your job?

“I really love meeting and talking to people, and I’m always working on maintaining relationships to keep our connections to the community strong. I also really enjoy helping connect people with the resources they need. I helped an older woman organize a house party, and our conversation ultimately led to Elevate helping her reduce her winter electricity bills. I helped her apply to the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association for a retrofit, and I called back every month to follow up on her application to see if they had any funding for her. Her application was finally accepted after nine months, and they offered her a free retrofit. Things like that make all the hard work worth it.”Outreach-winning-sgconsumer-award-on-smart-grid

Our Outreach Team is so great they received the CLEAR Award from the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative for their leadership in the development and implementation of consumer education programs [pictured at right]!

Interested in hosting a house party? Have questions about one of our programs? Contact Regional Lead Field Organizer Eli Corrado at or 773-671-0495.

Are you someone who has a passion for helping others, is a good communicator, and likes being out in the community? We’re often looking for our next community organizer—check Elevate’s Careers page for open positions.

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