I joined 10 other NC State students and a faculty advisor on an adventure across the country to the San Francisco Bay area in California. We spent our spring break serving with the non-profit organization GRID Alternatives, which works to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities. They are absolutely amazing. We met staff from a variety of GRID offices and backgrounds, but all were so open, welcoming, inspiring, encouraging, patient, and willing to teach. Getting to know them was definitely a huge highlight of the trip! They really helped make our experience all that it was and more. I highly encourage you to visit GRID’s website and learn more about the organization. It’s so much fun to volunteer, but you can also participate in an internship or SolarCorps position like a lot of the staff had done!
Here’s what went on during our week:
Because I could talk forever about this experience, I’m splitting our week in half and sharing everything over two posts to avoid going overboard on the word count 😉 . This is part one. You can read part two here!
I also didn’t take every picture in this post, so shout-out to whichever Solar Power Ranger got the shot!
Since we had to leave campus at 3 am Saturday morning, most of us met up at the student union on campus late Friday night for a team lock-in. We played a bunch of games and just hung out before we had to catch our bus to the airport. This was a very long day, but the excitement can sure keep you going!
We got to the airport around 3:30 am (ish) Saturday morning. It was pretty empty that early, so we had time to kill before we could board the plane. We took over some rows of chairs and, while half of the team fell asleep, the other half (in addition to documenting all the naps) played even more games.
We flew into San Francisco around 9:30/10:00 am, so we had another full day ahead of us. After piling into our rental van, we rushed over to Pier 33 to make our ferry to Alcatraz Island. This ferry is super cool because it’s actually the first hybrid ferry in the nation! The majority of its power comes from solar panels, wind turbines, and grid electricity- what a perfect start to a solar/sustainability trip!
Alcatraz was incredibly interesting (let’s see how many times I use a variation of “incredible” in this post) and we lucked out- no rain! Although a lot of it was under construction, I thought the island itself was beautiful. We did a self-guided tour through the prison and, since we all started the tour recording at the same time, shuffled around the cell blocks and other areas as a group. I don’t know why I think that’s so funny, but every time the recording said “now turn to your left” and we all turned left together, it made me really happy!
It definitely reminded me of the prison days in The Walking Dead (shout-out to my TWD roomie 😉 ), I loved it. There was actually a former inmate signing books in the gift shop on our way out- kind of weird if you think too much about it, but also kind of cool? Anyway.
After Alcatraz, we had an…unanticipated setback so we used the rest of the afternoon to take care of that. Once it was more or less under control, we checked into our hostel downtown then went looking for dinner. Walking down the streets of San Francisco at night is really eye-opening in and of itself. I’ve been through D.C., Philadelphia, Nashville, and New York City in the dark but this little path of hunger and homelessness affected me a lot more than I thought it would. They’re not bad people in the slightest and I know that. I just wish I could have done something to lift every single one of them because
“being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” -Mother Teresa
I think we all kind of kept this in the back of our minds after that walk.
When we finished dinner and were about to head out the door to go back to the hostel, naturally it started raining. No, just kidding, not raining, Pouring. Welcome to California, right? After much discussion, we decided to just go for it and run back through the rain. I don’t know what it is about being soaking wet and eventually bursting through a door, but it’s so much fun! You may think you’re miserable during the experience, but once you finally make it inside you can’t help but smile afterwards.
Sunday was our long drive from San Francisco to Atascadero to meet the GRID staff. It was then that I finally tried Chipotle for the first time. #excitement
Once in Atascadero, we would be cooking our dinners during the week. So, we took over a little grocery store, split up, and left with bags upon bags of food. I don’t know why pushing six carts through a check-out line is so thrilling, but hey, it’s the little things. 😉
After groceries, we just hung out at the GRID office- playing games, making dinner, and meeting some more of the staff. They gave us an awesome barbecue and an incredible welcome/kick-off to our week together!
We spent that night having a giant slumber party in the office- I love seeing everyone with sleeping bags spread all over the place! Who says this kind of thing stops in middle school?
Today, we started work with GRID!
We checked into the house we would be staying in for the week- an adorable “country haven” at Dancing Deer Farm. It was a gorgeous property with, you guessed it, deer (and turkeys) all over. I’m so thankful we were able to stay in such an amazing place. Just staying in one house together, cooking dinner and hanging out after an impactful day was great and really helped bring us together as a team.
Monday was our canvassing day where we paired up, got all official with our clipboards and door hangers, and covered a few neighborhoods in Santa Maria. We were pre-screening, looking for residents who would qualify for GRID’s free solar system. Yes, GRID installs solar panels with a pretty long maintenance contract at no cost to the family. Ever.
I told you they were incredible!
Canvassing was something I was pretty apprehensive about and the first few houses were a little rough, but by the end of our route I feel like I gained a noticeable increase in confidence in talking to the homeowners. I really appreciate that we had this opportunity to go out into the community and get to know it. We weren’t looking at stats on a piece of paper or hiding behind a computer sending mass emails. GRID brought us out to connect. Some pairs had better luck than others with the amount of people who answered their door, but I think we were all able to push ourselves that day and really help spread the word about GRID and what they are doing for their community.
I also think the homeowners appreciated that we, as college students, were out all the way from North Carolina to talk to them and tell them about this awesome opportunity to go solar and save, on average, 75-85% on their electric bill. I know we all really cared about serving them and letting them know that we were there for them on an individual level. Even though we were complete strangers who sometimes didn’t even speak the same language, I know Rosalynn, Seth, and I had some great conversations, both with each other and within the community.
Alright, officially day 2! We had some more minor setbacks today, but GRID and our team leader, Jackson, really pulled another great day together for us. Tuesday morning, we worked with another non-profit called One Cool Earth in a school garden. There was a lot to be done, but I feel that we really made a good dent in it! It was a beautiful day and we couldn’t have asked for better weather to be out playing in the dirt.
Our OCE hosts were great as well and their enthusiasm was contagious. They were really cool to talk to and, at the end of our morning with them, took the time to walk us around and tell us about the different plants being grown as well as the garden itself. Gardens on a warm, sunny day will always lift your spirits and restore your view of beauty in life!
We headed back to the GRID office for lunch and then split up again to shadow various staff members and learn and work with them for the afternoon. There were people documenting the pre-screens from our canvassing day, organizing the backyard, packing vans for our install, cleaning up filing systems, and going on a site visit to get more documentation for system plans.
When we were finished up there, we headed back to Dancing Deer to get a solar lesson using some panels GRID had installed earlier. It was super informative and so interesting! We all learned a lot about solar and GRID over these past few days that definitely benefited us during our install days!
I know that something in me changed from this first half of the week to the second half. I’m not entirely sure what happened or what exactly caused it, but it really amped up my experience and I’m forever grateful for that. If the first half of our experience was this amazing, can you even imagine how incredible it was by the end?
This concludes part one and the first half of our solar spring break! Part two is now live- read it here!
~What thoughts and/or opinions on solar would you have brought with you into a trip like this?