Bend has a few extra helpers this holiday season. The Bend Environmental Center welcomed an 11-member AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps team—known as Blue Six—a few weeks ago, and the group is working to install energy efficient light bulbs in Bend homes, as part of the Bend Energy Challenge.
Another AmeriCorps team—Blue One—is assisting the Salvation Army by helping operate its food bank, which is the largest in Central Oregon, as well as helping with its toy drive. In addition, Blue One is also running after school programs and mobile kitchens. Both teams have been here for four weeks and their service terms wrap up on Dec. 18.
Blue Six team members Emily Thompson and Charmaine Thomas are serving as media representatives for The Environmental Center and say Bend has made a favorable impression during their short time here. They both agree that it's been great serving in a place like Bend where the people have been so hospitable.
"We go around to people who have signed up for the program and install up to 16 free LED light bulbs, and we're learning a lot about Bend from that and just the people of Bend are so sweet and so nice," says Thompson.
So far the team has replaced 1,611 light bulbs in 104 homes, according to Neil Baunsgard with The Environmental Center. The team is also installing energy efficient showerheads and faucet aerators, and he estimates that the installations will save $19,152 in energy costs this year alone.
The team faced a hurdle last week after Bend received several inches of snow. Before the storm, Blue Six had two car teams and two bike teams, says Thompson.
"On Wednesday, we were supposed to have 22 installs, but we got snowed in and so we didn't go out and do any," she says.
Bend Energy Challenge Project Director Lindsey Hardy says without the team, the Environmental Center wouldn't have the staff power to fulfill the LED requests. They've had about 1,200 people sign up this year, and team Blue Six is aiming to complete 24 installs per day.
"They picked everything up quickly, they've been really enthusiastic, they come in every day with smiles," Hardy says. "We got really fortunate not only that we have these extra helping hands, but that we also have such a great and energetic team who came here."
Hardy says the Bend Energy Challenge began in January and will compete for one more year in hopes of bringing home a $5 million prize against 49 other communities. Thompson says any home in Bend can sign up for the service as long as they receive electric through Pacific Power, are serviced by Cascade Natural Gas Company, and have incandescent light bulbs.
"We're replacing 100 watt bulbs with 9 to 11 watt bulbs," she says.
Charmaine Thomas says she decided to join AmeriCorps NCCC because she enjoys doing random acts of kindness.
"I wanted to do something bigger than me," she says. She's given people free car rides and instead of celebrating her 21st birthday, the Detroit native spent a day at a homeless shelter. "[I just] wanted to celebrate them, you know."
Emily Thompson agrees that helping people comes naturally.
"I have always enjoyed serving others. I graduated with a hospitality degree so that's kind of just ingrained into who I am, but to be able to just do it for nothing and to be able to help someone—and they might not even know that it's us doing it—is something that I like to do," she says. "And you get to travel and you get to see communities that you wouldn't be able to see, and it definitely opens your eyes to a lot of new experiences."
Team Blue Six members come from different backgrounds—some have just graduated from high school, others have just graduated college, and one team member has been accepted to medical school. Team members have also immersed themselves in the community by fulfilling an additional NCCC volunteer requirement outside of their assigned jobs.
"We have volunteered at Bend's Community Center, the Veterans Day Parade, Tumalo State Park, and the Bend Thanksgiving Classic," says Thompson.
The team will serve in three more locations and will log a total of 1,700 hours over the course of its 10-month assignment. Team members will stick together through the duration of their service time.
"We're a family—I think in my eyes. If you fight with your sister or brother you get over it and you move on and that's how we are," says Thompson.
Thomas has attended some college and enjoys being part of the team.
"I haven't been on many teams in my life, so Blue Six is one of the first," she says. "Being on this team has been an eye opener helping me to understand everyone is different, and comes from different backgrounds and belief systems, and that's OK."