Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Initiative – An Historic Event

Installing the solar panels

At 9:00 a.m. on September 21st in Waukegan, Illinois a celebratory gathering took place. The atmosphere was party-like, excitement was in the air, as all of the agencies and people who made this special event possible chatted and celebrated. This was, in fact, an historic event. Solar panels were being installed as we watched.  But more than that, this entire project was coordinated, managed and worked on by women. And this was the big day.

Tanya and her family

When I attended Going Green Matters in March, 2019, I stopped to speak with Tanya Duffie, who was in charge of one of the booths.  At that time, Tanya was very excited because the Habitat home that was going to be hers had just been approved for the installation of solar panels, making her the first recipient of a home powered by solar energy and built by volunteers of Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Initiative. And now it is a reality

The Sun Company, the U.S.’s first solely woman-owned national energy company, donated the solar panels, inverter and installation equipment. The contribution showcases solar power as a more affordable energy solution for lower-income families hoping to reduce their utility bills, and it has already inspired the family receiving the home to consider careers in renewable energy and other traditionally male-dominated professions. This project is unique and may set a trend as an all-women project.

Harry, Margaret, Beth- Go Green Wilmette

Go Green Wilmette has played a part in two previous Habitat home with solar panels and was involved in coordinating this solar project that will benefit Tanya and her four children. The Habitat for Humanity – Lake County’s Women Build project is  the first Habitat Women Build house in the nation to have solar panels, thanks to All Bright Solar, The Sun Company and Rethink Electric.  The Kindling Group is producing a video that is documenting this project.  The little drone flying around was taking pictures of the solar installation that will be included in the documentary.

Rethink Electric Installation Crew – volunteers, Photo: Beth Drucker

“Electricity is a necessity. But energy costs in certain parts of the country make housing unaffordable, particularly for working-class and lower-income families,” explained Joley Michaelson, CEO of The Sun Company, the U.S.’s first solely woman-owned national energy company. “At The Sun Company, we make housing more affordable by making electricity more affordable. Through innovative renewable energy products and services, like our LIFE program, we help make electricity accessible and affordable while paving the long road back to a healthy climate.” 

“The solar panels dovetail with our goal to build strength, stability, self-reliance and shelter in local communities,” added Debbie Murphy, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Lake County. “Energy-use is a large part of every homeowner’s monthly payment, and this will help them for years to come.” 

Women Build Solar Team, Photo: Beth Drucker

Women Build events provide opportunities for women to take proactive steps in serving their communities and learning new professional skills. A team featuring local volunteers and family members started construction on the Waukegan-based home in May. Rethink Electric headed up the solar installation with volunteers throughout their company as well as supplying the material, labor and expertise to make this project successful. This solar installation will provide the community with valuable experience in one of the fastest-growing tech fields. The Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), one of the most significant energy bills ever to pass the Illinois General Assembly, makes renewable energy an integral part of the state’s future, and this Women Build event highlights the demand for expanding solar training programs to additional areas north of Chicago. The passing of the FEJA has grown Rethink Electric from 6 employees to 70 in the past year and is now the largest solar installation company in Illinois. Renewable energy is a great path forward to a well-paying career and working for the greater good of humanity.

Beth, Harry, Margaret, Lisa and new residents

Tanya Duffie, the single mother receiving the home, learned about solar technology from the Women Build project, and she and her son are now interested in Illinois’ new solar training, but all of the programs are currently not geographically accessible.  In her journey to become a successful home owner, Tanya spent 500 hours working on the home. In addition, Tanya participated in thirty hours of classes lead by Eunice Bridges, Habitat for Humanity Family Services Coordinator.

Eunice Bridges, Tanya Duffie, Deborah A. Murphy

“Solar is a great solution not only for energy generation, but it is also making a difference with poverty,” explained Lisa Albrecht of All Bright Solar who helped design and coordinate the project. “In 10 years, the growth of implementation of the solar industry has grown 5,000 times globally and in the US over 240,000 people are employed in the solar industry. And thanks to FEJA, we have had 36 percent job growth in Illinois in the past two years alone.” 

Rosie, Julie, Lisa and Larry

In addition to The Sun Company and Habitat for Humanity Lake County, other companies involved in the Women Build project include All Bright Solar, Elevate Energy, Go Green Wilmette, Rethink Electric and The Kindling Group.

“This definitely has brought us closer together as a family,” says Tanya Duffie about the Women Build project. “By it being our own house, it’s even better. We’ve learned a lot by helping build our own home. This has taught us what partnership is about. It has been a great experience for us as a family to be able to do this.”

Allen Maniscalco, drone operator and Sean Raju, Videographer

It was a lovely, feel good day as people met one another and chatted about their specific role in the project and how pleased they were that this day had arrived.  Several children were enjoying the ground and the nibbles, Tanya’s children and those of attendees.  The drone taking pictures of the solar installation periodically captured our attention.

Can you see the drone?

After a while, Deborah A. Murphy the Habitat for Humanity Lake County Executive Director offered a prayer for the family’ in their new home and then a prayer blessing the home, itself. Lunch was shared and the new home owners received good wishes from all.

Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.

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