2012 Winner in Engaging Congregants and Communities

Oceanside High School students help build window inserts as a community service project with First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME.

An interfaith effort to help low-income Mainers save on heating costs has won the 2012 Cool Congregations Challenge award in the Engaging Congregants and Communities category.

High heating bills prompted the board at First Universalist Church of Rockland to investigate, and their study showed significant heat loss through the windows. Leaders researched solutions and found that a fellow named Topher Belknap of Damariscotta, Maine, had invented easy-to-build thermal window inserts that form an insulating barrier to save heat. Church members built and installed 26 of these window inserts. That action, combined with other changes such as adding ceiling fans and a shade for one window, saved First Universalist 25 percent in our heating costs in the winter of 2010-2011.

The project spread to church members who wanted the inserts for their homes, and then to low-income families in the area, who received the inserts free of charge. Over the past year, First Universalist has teamed on multiple community builds with the town of Liberty, Peoples United Methodist of South Thomaston and Oceanside High School, where students provided the labor as a community service project.

Volunteers in the effort became known as “window dressers” and the Window Dresser Project is now a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. First Universalist has reached out to Quakers, Methodists, Baptists and other denominations to expand this work into a truly interfaith effort. The Window Dressers are a wonderful example of faith communities working together to care for Creation and help their neighbors.

In its 2012 Cool Conregations Challenge entry, the church reported that it had produced 1,350 window inserts for more than 105 homes. The church always seeks contributions from people who purchase windows, but it continues to give away 30 percent of the inserts. Unitarian Universalists in Arizona have taken note of the program and hope to use the inserts to keep heat out of buildings and homes there.

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