When Malek came to Clarkston, Georgia, in 2016, he didn’t know that one day he would be helping the community where he first landed.
Clarkston is frequently referred to as the “most ethnically diverse square mile in America” with its approximately 14,000 residents — 43% of which are refugees or foreign born, and 32% African American.
Malek Alarmash left Syria for the US seeking safety and a place to use and grow his skills being a people person. He is now the program manager for Empower Clarkson, a green efficiency training program that’s a collaboration between Tekton Career training and Greenlink Analytics.
The program utilizes American Rescue Plan grant funding to teach participants how to become technicians that renovate and incorporate energy-efficient upgrades to existing homes, apartments, and other residences. This includes insulation, window and door sealants that reduce air and heat leaks, and making sure air ducts are properly sealed.
For every person that gets trained, a home gets upgraded with efficiency measures. The upgrades are free to homeowners, and participants have seen a 33% decrease in their energy and electricity bills, or by about $700 dollars annually.
“I enjoy the happiness and the excitement of the homeowner and the students when either a home gets insulated or a student graduates,” says Malek. “I love helping people.”
Empower Clarkston began in 2019 and has trained 40 technicians and updated 40 homes across Dekalb County thus far. When the current funding cycle ends, a total of 60 homes will have been updated and 69 people trained.
“If I had had the option, I would go to every single home in Dekalb County, but the funds are very limited to how much we can do,” says Malek. “The small impact we’re having right now is very scalable and could be done anywhere in the country.”
One of program’s challenges if finding the homes where upgrades would have the highest impact. That means lower-income families with high energy burdens. Right now, Empower Clarkston’s using the GEM app to locate these heavily energy burdened homes.
Energy burden is a measure of affordability. It’s the percentage of a household’s income spent on electricity and gas bills; in the United States, an energy burden of three or four percent is typical. An energy burden greater than six percent of income is considered high, while those greater than 10 percent are severe.
“The more we’re wasting energy, the more carbon we’re sending into the air, and the more someone is paying for their energy bills,” says Malek. “Our small impact might affect the greater impact of the environmental movement.”