Students take energy-saving lessons home

Conservation class graduating today at Caroline Center

July 24, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

A little nervously, Marquita Nelson stood at the lectern in front of two dozen other women at the Caroline Center in East Baltimore and delivered what amounted to a testimonial.

"This has helped me a lot, it really has," said Nelson, 23, who plans to graduate today from a training program at the center that will certify her as a nursing assistant.

Nelson was not referring to the 15-week nursing course she has just completed, but rather to unrelated classes at the center about how to save money by conserving energy at home.


Those classes, set up by the Fuel Fund - a charitable organization that helps low-income people pay their utility bills - were an eye-opener for some participants, who acknowledged having previously not given much thought to turning lights off, installing energy-efficient bulbs or shortening their showers.

"Those light bulbs really make a difference," said Nelson, referring to compact fluorescent bulbs, which use about one-fourth as much electricity and last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. She and others who attended the Watt Watchers classes said they had also been helped by advice that they use washing machines and dishwashers only during off-peak hours - when electricity rates are lower - and that they restrict their use of air-conditioners as much as possible.

In the sweltering days of summer, such advice seemed well-founded.

Melissa Barnes, who is expecting her third child at the end of August - the others are ages 3 and 1 - said Watt Watchers had taught her that everything counts when it comes to curtailing power use at home.

"I've been cutting the lights," said Barnes, another of today's graduates in the certified nursing assistant stream at the Caroline Center. "I had to make the kids stop running TVs in different rooms that they're not even in, and I've stopped running hot water all the time. I used to leave it running while I was doing dishes."

Yesterday's gathering was a coming-out party of sorts - complete with pizza and sodas - for the Watt Watchers students, all of whom initially became involved with the Caroline Center to learn other skills. Today's graduation ceremony at the center, which was founded in 1996 to help low-income women acquire skills in professional settings, includes the nursing students, 12 pharmacy technicians, six aspiring chefs and one upholsterer.

Basic advice

Mary D'Ambrogi, a Fuel Fund board member who instructs in the Watt Watchers program, had some basic but crucial advice yesterday for the women and for anyone else who looks at monthly utility bills with alarm.

"With electricity and gas, you can control your usage in your home," she said. "Don't keep the [air conditioner] way low and then put on a sweater to stay warm. That makes no sense. The TV? Turn it off. When you leave a room, flip off the light. And don't stand in front of the refrigerator like it's a lounge. Make your decision and then open the fridge."

In addition, she said, no one should run water while brushing teeth, or "stand in the shower all day," pointlessly wasting water.

"All this ends up saving you money," D'Ambrogi said. "It's not rocket science."

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