The city of Dubuque has recruited the help of local youth this year to assist in its fight against climate change.

Since early September, the Teen Resiliency Corps has hired local teenagers to survey local neighborhoods to determine their overall energy efficiency, asking residents a number of questions relating to the energy use in their homes.

This year, the program seeks to knock on the doors of 4,000 homes and complete 1,000 surveys, with 13 teens enrolled in the program, ranging from 13 to 17 years old.

Speaking with the Dubuque City Council earlier this month, Gina Bell, sustainability coordinator for the city, said the program both educates and engages the community’s youth and gives the city a better understanding of each neighborhood’s energy efficiency, allowing the city to better tackle its climate action plan. The city’s climate action plan is a document detailing strategies and actions the city can take to reach its goal of reducing citywide emissions by 50% by 2030.

“This is data collection, so we can continue to craft solutions for actual Dubuquers and not just what we think might be out there,” she said.

Bell said the program also allows participants to provide a general check-in with residents, and teens are encouraged to ask residents about their personal well-being.

Liz Swan, audit coordinator for Green Iowa AmeriCorps, which is assisting with the program, said the teens hired for the program were recruited through the Multicultural Family Center and are paid $12 per hour.

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the teens go out in groups to knock on doors and ask a number of questions relating to residents’ energy use, ranging from what types of lightbulbs are used to what kind of furnace they have. Swan added that residents are asked about lead piping in their homes and are offered free LED bulbs for participating.

For the city, the project provides a snapshot into the utility use and overall efficiency of neighborhoods. For the students, the initiative has helped them develop communication skills and, in some cases, provided them with their first job.

“I keep going back each week because I love all the interactions and focus on helping people,” said participant Addison Ryan, 15. “I am a younger teen trying to make this community a better place.”

Additionally, each teen is educated about the importance of the work they do and how it relates to sustainability, Swan said, and each teen is given extensive training on how to approach and ask questions to residents.

“They have a script that they can use, but some of them have started doing it their own way,” Swan said. “They are being paid, so there is still responsibility tied to professional behavior and knowing that there are expectations.”

Dubuque City Council members expressed their enthusiasm for the program.

“This is just beyond awesome,” said Council Member Ric Jones. “A lot of people live their whole lives and never get the opportunity to knock on a door and make something better for somebody.”

City Council Member Brad Cavanagh praised the communication skills the teens were developing through the program.

“It’s very impressive,” he said. “You are getting something big out of this and it is incredibly helpful to us as a city.”

Bell said the program is currently funded through a $10,000 grant from the National League of Cities and will officially conclude in mid-December, though she is continuing to seek additional grant funding to continue the initiative.

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