Conversaciones con la comunidad / Conversations with community

August 2023

If you ask Carmen Carruthers, it’s all about who you know… and the conversations you share.

“We're really big believers in word of mouth,” she says. “There's a lot of value in learning information from someone you feel connected with. It's going to mean more, and you may even pay a little bit more attention.” CUB slide

Carruthers is the Outreach Director for Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota or CUB. A longtime CERTs partner, CUB is a nonprofit advocate for Minnesota consumers who access utilities. They push for affordable utility services, consumer protections, and clean energy. 

“Our goal is to make sure as many Minnesotans as possible are aware of all of these resources.”

The resources she’s talking about are energy efficiency tools and information. On behalf of CUB, Carruthers recently teamed up with another CERTs partner, Unidos MN to co-lead a multi-region training program about these resources. The Energy Justice Pueblitos Project gathered a cohort of community experts who engaged with MN’s Latine community in conversations about utilities, help with energy bills, and energy efficiency. CUB brought the subject matter expertise, Unidos MN brought the community, and CERTs proudly supported their efforts with Seed Grant Program funding.

Encuentra a tu gente / Find your people

Unidos MN is a grassroots organization that aims to build power with Minnesota's working families. Born out of the DREAMER movement, Unidos MN focuses on the topics of immigration, education, and climate justice. They are an intersectional, intergenerational, women, Latine-led organization working in Minnesota’s central, southwest, and metro regions. 

Jose Alvillar, a lead organizer at Unidos MN, says that the train-the-trainer sessions with CUB were a perfect fit for their community-focused organization. 

“To start the project, we identified multiple community leaders per region to receive training on energy efficiency. The purpose of the train-the-trainer model was to ensure that awareness and knowledge was able to reach people through these trusted messengers.”

CUB was able to provide individualized training to the leaders based on the energy related resources, offerings, and systems within their home regions of Minnesota. 

“Our role was to work with Unidos MN staff and their volunteer community to help equip them with a variety of information related to energy issues. Information like programs, policies, rules, and resources. The goal was to get them to a point where they'd be comfortable talking about those resources.”

The training included topics like energy assistance, consumer protections and rights, the cold weather rule, and how to negotiate a payment plan with your utility. However, not everyone involved in the program spoke English comfortably. Interpreters were brought on to help communicate the learnings. 

“One of our key things at Unidos MN is that we want to help develop our leaders,” says Alvillar. “It was very intentional that we provided these tools for our members and our leaders. So that they too may learn about their energy bill, so that they, too, may talk with their neighbors, with their friends, and with their family.”

Difundir la palabra / Spread the word

Following their training, the community leaders ran with their new knowledge… or at least walked door to door with it. The leaders arranged ten door knocking events across their regions to inform community members of energy efficiencyCUB slide programs, distribute information, and help folks understand their utility bills. They reached 300 households and had 56 conversations, not bad in a post-pandemic world.

Alvillar says the Energy Justice Pueblitos project was instrumental in creating awareness around energy efficiency in Unidos MN’s Latine communities. He also says it was a meaningful learning experience for their organization.

“I feel like in the past, there's been this narrative that in our community, people may not want to move in the direction of energy efficiency,” says Alvillar. But the truth is, it’s just hard to have these conversations because of cultural differences. And part of it is people not having the right information, not having the right resources.”

“We saw a lot of folks that are interested in saving on their electricity bills. People that do want to have solar panels on their roof. There's definitely a need and a want from these communities to move toward renewable and clean energy. So now it’s our mission to keep providing resources, knowledge and expertise.”


Unidos MN Education Fund - Energy Justice Pueblitos

Clean Energy Focus: Train-the-trainer energy education and outreach to communities

Central CERT, Metro CERT, and Southwest CERT Seed Grants: $5,000 each, $15,000 total

Other Funds Leveraged: Staff time by Citizens Utility Board

People Involved and Reached: 615

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