FARMINGTON — A team of volunteers and community members this month will launch their fourth year of helping Franklin County button up homes and community buildings.

Long before cold weather becomes a daily challenge, the Farmington-based United Way of the Tri-Valley Area recruits support from town officials and citizens to contact people who could use some help weatherizing homes. The Community Energy Challenge team, led by Volunteer Coordinator Nancy Teel, organizes materials, workers and building sites for a storm window project.

The program began in 2009, Teel said, and has drawn more than 200 volunteers to work with nearly the same number of households. Teel said the Community Energy Challenge work crews have built and installed 838 interior storm windows, which are simply designed wooden frames wrapped in plastic.

“These storm window panels keep heat inside homes during winter months and encourage homeowners to make positive changes in their energy consumption,” she said. “The goal is to assist people, not do things for them.”

The Community Energy Challenge developed from concerns about fuel prices and a tough economy, and when homeowners began to participate in workshops, they became more proactive in their homes and lives, Teel said. She estimated a total energy savings of more than $41,000 a year has allowed many residents to feel less stress as the cost of living continues to rise.

Volunteers are crucial to the success of the program, she said.

“Last year, four key volunteers contributed a total of 804 hours and drove 2,131 miles,” she said. “Figuring the cost of labor and travel, we can estimate that’s an in-kind value of $13,045.”

Training takes more time, she said, but participants learn to build, care for and repair their storm window panels. They also often learn to teach others, making their neighbors safer and warmer in their homes.

Participants receiving fuel assistance can receive up to six free panels, and other participants pay $1.50 per linear foot. Trained evaluators visit homes by appointment to help residents plan the location for the panels and to measure each window.

At the hands-on community workshops at the Foster Technology Center’s Annex, known as “The Shoe” on High Street in Farmington, volunteers and homeowners help build the panels and share a potluck lunch. Tools and materials are provided, Teel said, and anyone can participate at any skill level or ability. The panels are installed in the homes by homeowners and volunteers. Site leaders oversee the projects, and the Days of Caring will be held rain or shine, she said.

“This is a great way to get involved in our communities,” Teel said. “All skill levels are welcome; there’s always something for someone to do.”

Teel can be reached at the United Way office in Farmington at 778-5048, [email protected], or at Funding for projects comes through the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Maine Commission for Community Service, the Maine Community Foundation, the Town of Livermore and the United Methodist Economic Ministry.

United Way Days of Caring/Rural Community Action Ministry:

* Sept. 21, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.: Painting, landscaping, and minor building repairs in Livermore/Livermore Falls

* Oct. 20, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.: Painting, light carpentry and weatherizing at United Methodist Economic Ministry, Salem Township

United Way Community Energy Challenge Window Workshops:

* Sept. 22-Oct. 27, First Baptist Church, 5 Church St., Livermore Falls

* Nov. 3-17, Kingfield Town Office, 38 School St., Kingfield

* Dec. 1-Jan. 26, Foster Tech Annex, 347 High St., Farmington (former Franklin Shoe next to Fairgrounds)

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