Weatherization program a blessing for Benton Township woman

Updated: Oct. 10, 2017

By: Tony Wittkowski (HP Staff Writer)

BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. At the start of another cold week in Michigan, Sharon Townes is welcoming strangers into her home while plastic sheeting covers her living room floor. 

A dozen or so of these strangers are poking holes and ripping out insulation for Townes, who hasn't been able to work in five years because of a disability.

The strangers are contractors there as part of the Weatherization Assistance Program, which Townes applied for through the help of the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency.

"I'm so blessed to be a part of this," she said Monday from her couch. "I was very prayerful and hopeful that this opportunity would come to be. I've really needed some things done."

Townes discovered the program a few months ago when she was seeking help for her gas bill. While sitting in a room at SMCAA, Townes noticed different fliers and grabbed a few on her way out. At home, she read about WAP and applied.

Art Fenrick, executive director of SMCAA, said the program's main purpose is to allow low-income families to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. 

After an interview, an inspection and more paperwork to fill out, Townes was selected to receive assistance. 

Get the word out

Sandra Klank, the weatherization manager for SMCAA, said it's been difficult getting the word out about WAP.

With Monday being National Weatherization Day, Klank and others met at Townes' home to honor the cost-savings program that began in 1976. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the program has helped more than 7 million families since its inspection.

Based on an evaluation of the program, the weatherization improvements and upgrades have saved households an average of $283 a year.

But the effort has been ever-changing. Now everything is technical and state of the art, Fenrick said. 

"As we have become more energy dependent, folks started putting plastic on windows and adding some caulk," he said. "We now know today that's just a drop in the bucket. It's well-intended, but not cost-effective."

SMCAA, which covers Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties, has accepted 30 program applicants this year.

Using a priority system established by the state in which families and the disabled are pushed to the top, Klank said Townes rose higher on the list sooner than expected.

"All costs are covered through a grant, with no cost to Sharon," Klank said. "It's funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and distributed through various community action agencies like us."

A warm home

For a house that has proven to hemorrhage heat, Townes has a lot of warm memories in her Benton Township home.

A collage of framed photographs covers the west wall of her living room. It's an ever expanding collection and the true purpose to Townes' efforts to seek help.

She has five children -- four boys and one girl -- the majority of which have moved out and gone on to start families of their own. Townes said she now wants to keep the place her family called home intact.

"You want to keep that home your kids grew up in," she said. "The wall grows and grows. I love to see my family grow."

Townes worked two, sometimes three jobs to raise a family as a single parent. With no disposable income to invest in her home, Townes began to notice how her house is aging.

After working at Lakeland Health for 24 years, Townes developed an illness that kept her from earning income. Five years later, she's still unemployed and can't do simple things around the house, like cleaning gutters or raking leaves.

"You do the best that you can," she said. "This was a blessing to have this program available."

Now weatherization contractors will spend the next two to three days fixing up her house.

Insulation will be added to the walls, ceiling and attic, in addition to a few pricey items that limits the loss of heat to a home.

Townes said while she wants to get the word out about these programs, she admits the responsibility falls on those who need help to seek it.

"You have to put in the work," she said. "Don't complain if you have to do the paperwork. Fill it out with a smile in the hopes that something good will happen."

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Benton Harbor, MI 49022

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Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency

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