Guest post: Solarthon comes to Madera & GRID Alternatives celebrates women in solar

Solarthon comes to Madera on April 21. The community solar installation event is GRID Alternatives’ biggest fundraiser and brings together hundreds of sponsors, job trainees and homeowners. GRID Alternatives' mission is to empower communities in need by providing renewable energy and energy efficiency services, equipment and training.

Erica Mackie, co-founder and executive director, and the folks at GRID Alternatives put this together to highlight some of the achievements of women in GRID.

Mackie says, "When I was in engineering school, there were only three other women in my class. Construction and engineering, both major pieces of the solar picture, are dominated by men.

"But at GRID Alternatives, we believe that solar is for everyone. From our construction crews to our volunteers, clients, donors and staff, we have an amazing base of women who get out there and get the job done. And those who have volunteered with us know that getting experience in solar can open up all kinds of doors in the industry, not just on the installation side, but also in sales, client support and project management."

Carmen Valles, Coachella Valley volunteer

After working for years as a bank executive, Carmen decided it was time to reinvent herself. Her requirements for starting a new career included two things: an up-and-coming industry with room for growth and something she would be passionate about.

Carmen enrolled in College of the Desert’s photovoltaic class to learn about solar because, in her words, “Why not use what’s right in front of us?” She began volunteering with GRID Alternatives in June 2011, and since then has participated in over 21 solar installations throughout the Inland Empire.

She became a GRID Alternatives Ground and Roof Team Leader in early September 2011. “I have gained a wealth of knowledge — more knowledge than I could have gained in my classroom setting alone,” she says. Carmen has now taken that experience and, along with a business partner, launched her own solar PV and solar thermal installation company.

Angela McCormick, Templeton homeowner

Angela was painting doors and installing weather stripping the day a team of GRID Alternatives volunteers came to install her new solar system. She wanted to help, but she had her hands full. A single mother of two and full time deputy county clerk, Angie was also building her own home, from the ground up, through the People’s Self-Help Housing Program.

“I had never done any kind of construction work before,” says Angie. “But I fell in love with it.” She and her neighbors, thirty-two other families who worked in teams to get the neighborhood built, will all receive solar systems through GRID Alternatives.

“The GRID volunteers are just awesome!” Angie writes in her blog. “They took every opportunity to educate me in solar energy, what they were doing, what my system is capable of.” Angie, her son (and construction partner) Shorty, and her daughter Angelina will move into their new home this week. “My hope is that once we are settled, I can take the GRID Alternatives volunteer orientation and volunteer on another installation,” she says.

Lara Ettenson, Bay Area donor and volunteer

“GRID leaves fingerprints all over my life,” says Lara Ettenson, a long-time GRID Alternatives donor and volunteer.

Lara has participated in over 10 solar installations for Bay Area families to date, and says she still can’t get enough. As director of energy efficiency policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, she is no stranger to renewables, but there is something about the GRID Alternatives model that moves her -- the engagement with the homeowners, the sense of community among the volunteers and the green job training.

Lara became a GRID Alternatives donor back in 2007 when she was fresh out of graduate school and still looking for work.
Jasmine Shepard, Bay Area volunteer and training associate

When Jasmine got her her degree in electrical engineering, she decided to apply her skills to changing the culture of consumption she grew up with in her hometown of Augusta, Ga. Jasmine started researching career opportunities in California and in 2009 moved to Oakland for an AmeriCorps VISTA position.

She found GRID Alternatives later that same year. “I got waitlisted too!” she says of her volunteer experience. In 2011, she got an AmeriCorps position at GRID Alternatives. Jasmine is also a teacher’s assistant at Laney College in the Environmental Control Technology Department, a freelance web designer, and a talented pastry chef (GRID staff is particularly happy she has this hidden talent.)

Her favorite part of working at GRID Alternatives? “The volunteers. They come from all different backgrounds and are so enthusiastic and inquisitive. I learn so much from them!”