Weatherization Director Harald Schmidtke's Legacy Honored

On May 31 at its Annual Celebration, SEVCA honored former Weatherization Director, Harald Schmidtke, a much-loved community leader, colleague, and friend, who passed away on April 2.

As SEVCA's Weatherization Director, Harald dedicated the past 25 years of his life to reducing energy costs and improving the lives of vulnerable Windham and Windsor County residents. SEVCA staff, Board, supporters, and friends gathered at the American Legion Post 67 in Chester, VT to celebrate and reflect on the enormous and lasting contribution Harald has made to the community through his leadership of the Weatherization Program. 

SEVCA staff, other members of the statewide Weatherization network, and other colleagues spoke about their relationship with Harald and his impact on their lives. Attending the event were Harald’s children, Carol, Max, and Nicole, who expressed their heartfelt thanks for honoring their father and being part of Harald’s extended family during his lifetime.

SEVCA’s Executive Director Steve Geller, who worked closely with Harald for the past 14 years, said, “What stands out the most about Harald’s legacy is the fact that he was fiercely committed to not just his program and his staff, but to all of SEVCA and our mission, and to the success of the entire Community Action movement and the War on Poverty. This was a deeply heartfelt cause for him, not just a job.”

Gloria Dawson, former SEVCA Executive Director who hired Harald in 1993, shared how much she respected and relied on Harald, saying he was “…strong-willed, but loyal, and he had a heart of gold. He had a lot of compassion, he never wanted to see people struggling. His staff loved Harald, they respected him. He was tough on them, but they knew he would go to bat for them,she said.

Geoff Wilcox, Weatherization Program Administrator at the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), served as keynote speaker and shared his experiences of working closely with Harald over the past two decades. “He created a team atmosphere that was conducive to succeeding. Harald showed the same respect for a new crew hire as he did for his Operations Manager. To him, people were people no matter their title or circumstance in life, and you treated them respectfully and kindly.”

Geoff also reflected on how Harald’s life epitomized what makes the Weatherization program special. “Beyond how we save low income families money on their heating and electric bills, beyond how we make their homes warmer, and beyond how we many times change their lives and instill hope into them, a huge benefit of the Weatherization program is how it has improved the lives of the folks (like Harald and thousands of others like him) who get to work in it. Harald and I have this in common along with so many others. We found our calling, we realized how rewarding it is to help others, and to work with others who have that same drive and desire to help people in need….We found our purpose in life. We became Weatherization ‘lifers’.”

Former Weatherization client Janice Hastings also shared her appreciation for Harald and how much he cared about everyone he helped. Janice said that when she thanked Harald and the Weatherization Department for all the work they’d done to make her home warm and safe, “Harald turned around and said, ‘Thank you for giving us the opportunity to help improve your life.’”

Weatherization staff received a “Beyond the Call of Duty” award from Executive Director Steve Geller, who praised the department for coming together during the difficult circumstances of Harald’s illness and loss and developing and executing a plan to get the program back on track. He said that the commitment and team spirit that they displayed was an inspiration for all of us.

Client Survey Reveals Hardships of Poverty

As part of SEVCA’s triennial Community Assessment, which helps us assess our programs in terms of the needs in our service area, we surveyed a sample of our clients in May and June, and received 218 responses. Results indicate that hardship for the low income households we serve is persistent and severe, with minor improvement since the last time we surveyed our clients in 2015. Here are some of the preliminary results:

  • Households with lower incomes struggle just to meet their basic needs. 62% of those surveyed said their household income is not enough to meet their family’s basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc.). 59% said they have had to borrow money or use their credit cards just to pay for their basic needs.
  • Chronic lack of adequate income or even a period of financial stress can lead to a debt trap for many lower-income households. 58% of survey respondents said they can’t afford the monthly payments on their debt, and 60% said they can’t get credit or have bad credit. 74% said they are unable to save money regularly.
  • Few opportunities other than low-wage work are available to this population. Among lower-income workers surveyed, 72% said that most of the jobs they can get don’t pay well, and 74% said they and/or their partner had to work more than 40 hours/week just to pay the bills.
  • More education and/or training is needed to help households move out of poverty. 54% of respondents said they need more education or training to get a better job, and 67% of this group said they are not able to afford the education or training program they need. 50% said they would like to start a business but need more support and training.
  • Many people in lower-income households are no longer able to work. A large proportion of those we surveyed were disabled and unable to work (32%) and/or retired (24%) and on fixed incomes.
  • Housing costs represent one of the most persistent barriers to sustainability for low-income households. 70% of respondents felt there was not enough affordable, safe housing in their area, and 56% said that they have a hard time paying their rent and/or mortgage. 24% said they are behind in their rent or mortgage payments, and are therefore at risk of homelessness. Housing subsidies are scarce: only 16% of those surveyed had rental assistance or lived in affordable housing.
  • Housing quality is also a concern, with 77% of lower-income homeowners surveyed saying that their home needs major repairs but they can’t afford them. 42% of all respondents said that their home or apartment was cold in the winter and/or not insulated well.
  • Most lower income households have trouble making ends meet despite receiving at least some public benefits. For example, 76% of survey respondents received 3SquaresVT (Food Stamps), yet 47% said they sometimes skip meals to save money on food, one of the indicators of food insecurity.
  • Lack of access to dental care emerged as a major issue among the households surveyed, with 54% saying that they have a hard time finding dentists that take their insurance (additionally, many said they had no dental care benefits and couldn’t afford to go see a dentist). In comparison, only 14% said they had a hard time finding doctors that take their insurance. 57% of the respondents indicated they had Medicaid / Dr. Dinosaur, 41% had Medicare, and 20% had a VT Health Connect medical plan.
  • Mental health is also a significant concern for many lower-income households. Mental health challenges and poverty often go hand in hand, often brought on due to the stresses of living in poverty. 47% of survey respondents say they or someone in their family needs help with a problem like depression, anxiety / stress, or other mental health issue. 54% of the sample felt that there were not enough mental health and substance abuse resources in their communities.

  • Public transportation not feasible for most, and affording car repair/maintenance is a serious barrier. 76% of respondents said that public transportation does not go where they need to go at the times they need it, and most people need to rely on their cars. However, 74% of those with a car said they had a hard time maintaining it and 80% said if their car needs a major repair, they won’t be able to afford to fix it. 45% of respondents said that the cost of gasoline makes it hard for them to get or keep a job, and 40% said other difficulties with transportation did so.


Don’t “Fall Back” into bad financial habits—Get Financially Fit!

Time to register for SEVCA's upcoming “Financial Fitness” workshop series, to be held in Brattleboro starting September 19. This 7-part workshop series will help participants improve their relationship with money, develop strong financial habits, and take steps toward prosperity. SEVCA’s instructors will utilize tools from the acclaimed Your Money Your Goals curriculum developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Topics covered include: saving, spending, credit, home buying, insurance, purchasing a car, and saving for college. The instructor will also provide individualized financial coaching, as needed, to help participants and their families become more financially secure.

The workshop series is free and open to the public. It will be held at Winston Prouty Center, Holton Hall, 130 Austine Dr., Brattleboro from 5:30-7 p.m. on the following dates: Wednesdays on Sept. 19 and 26, and Tuesdays from Oct. 2 to Oct 30. Pre-registration is required. Please call Susan Dillon to register at 802-722-4575, ext. 151, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Funding Sought for New Solar Array at SEVCA’s Westminster office

Community Solar for Community Action--A New Way to Provide Energy Assistance

Over 33 million American households struggle with energy poverty, forcing them to make difficult choices between home energy and other basic necessities, such as health care, housing, or adequate nutrition. According to a recent Vermont Law School study, energy poverty affects 1 in 5 Vermonters. Currently, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which in Vermont includes supplemental state funding and is administered by the Department of Children and Families, offers seasonal fuel assistance and temporary emergency relief to low-income residents. However, a stopgap is not a solution, and energy assistance costs billions of dollars annually. Furthermore, fuel assistance for electricity is currently delivered directly to utilities, leaving low-income households with little choice in where their energy comes from. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), low- and moderate-income households make up 40% of the nation’s population but less than 5% of all solar power customers. A lack of resources and viable financing options to make upfront investments in solar create barriers that prevent this population from accessing renewable energy opportunities.

SEVCA will build, own, and manage an innovative community solar installation that will use virtual net metering credits to deliver solar energy assistance directly to Windham and Windsor County households with high energy burdens (see Project Details, below). This project, Community Solar for Community Action, will demonstrate a new, nationally replicable model of energy assistance, enabling low-income households to meet their energy needs while supporting the development of renewable energy resources.

SEVCA has partnered with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a Minnesota-based nonprofit, which is helping to develop the project as part of the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This $5 million contest aims to stimulate the development of “innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.” (  

In addition to grants raised by RREAL, SEVCA was awarded a grant of $111,000 from the Windham Regional Commission’s Renewable Energy Grant Program to help make the project a reality. SEVCA can only utilize the full amount of this grant if we raise enough matching funds to support the project!  Some donors have already stepped up to contribute this match and ensure the development of a renewable energy source that will provide energy assistance to low income Vermonters for at least the next 25 years.

We are looking for more donors to help out! If you support more sustainable communities and want to help ensure that area low-income households can meet their basic needs for heat and electricity in a more environmentally-friendly way, we’d love to hear from you!

You can donate easily online at:  Alternatively, contact Becky Himlin, SEVCA's Director of Development and Planning, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (802) 722-4575.


The project will consist of a 109.7 kW ground- and roof-mounted solar array sited on SEVCA’s property in Westminster, VT. Approximately 50 area low-income households with high energy burdens will become subscribers to the project, and receive virtual net metering credits as a form of energy assistance. The system is projected to produce 119,500 kWh per year (at a current value of $23,200) and save approximately 88.9 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.*

Project goals include:

  • Reducing the energy burden of low-income households through applying virtual net metering credits on their electricity bills, based on the energy generated by the solar array.

  • Enabling low-income households to support and benefit from the development of renewable sources of energy, thereby participating in the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.

  • Reducing participating low-income households’ dependence on energy assistance by decreasing and stabilizing their energy costs.

  • Contributing to reducing and stabilizing SEVCA’s energy costs for the operation of its main office in Westminster, thereby freeing up scarce resources to use for services.

Community Solar for Community Action aims to showcase a fiscally responsible and environmentally appropriate alternative to conventional, fossil-fuel-based energy assistance. Vermont has a favorable regulatory environment for community solar projects, a population that is highly supportive of renewable energy, and a significant need for energy assistance among low-income households, making this a great testing-ground for this model. The project aims to chart a new future towards a more sustainable low-income solar energy assistance program nationally.

Your contribution will help SEVCA better serve Vermonters and the environment!

To learn more about the project, contact Becky Himlin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


* EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator:

Get Help from SEVCA’s Health Navigator to Get or Keep Health Coverage

Need help to get public health insurance or Medicaid? Having difficulty with the process of renewing your benefits or adjusting your coverage? SEVCA’s Health Navigator is available to help families and individuals in Windham or Windsor Counties get or keep the coverage they need to stay healthy and/or obtain treatment.

SEVCA is able to continue its successful Health Navigator program in the face of extremely limited public funding for this vital service due to a multi-year grant from the Fannie Holt Ames & Edna Louise Holt Fund. Although the Trump administration has cut funding for promotion of ‘Obamacare’ and assistance to obtain or change it, there are still options for coverage through the Health Exchange in Vermont, as well as Medicaid for those households that qualify, and SEVCA’s Navigator is there to help make sure the public can access them.

“SEVCA is committed to supporting health care access for low-income and other vulnerable households in our service area,” said Steve Geller, SEVCA’s Executive Director. “Without advocates to assist them, the negative impacts of the increasingly confusing health insurance maze on lower-income households will be even worse, and hundreds of local families, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and others could be left to fend for themselves as they try to maintain coverage and obtain appropriate care and treatment. This program means that in Southeastern Vermont vulnerable families have someone on their side.”



Updated June 2018

"If I could give you one thought, it would be to lift someone up. Lift a stranger up--lift her up. I would ask you, mother and father, brother and sister, lovers, mother and daughter, father and son, lift someone. The very idea of lifting someone up will lift you, as well."

Maya Angelou