Volunteer Spotlight: Birch Hincks, Superstar

Birch Hincks has already been our Featured Volunteer for her hard work and sparkling personality around the Trees, Water & People office. Now we get to give her another very special thanks, this time for the month of service she just spent at our project site in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Birch lived in and worked on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), helping improve the living quarters for trainees as well as generally improving and expanding the training campus with RCREC employees Henry Red Cloud and Leo Bear. She did an amazing job of reaching out the to the Pine Ridge community, reconnecting with previous solar air heater recipients to see how they are doing. In addition, Birch travelled with Henry and his crew to conduct installations and trainings on the Great Plains. Thank you Birch…we all love you!

Four Stars Again!

Trees, Water & People (TWP) has achieved Charity Navigator’s coveted 4-star rating for sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency, under the new “CN 2.0” two dimensional rating system. This exceptional designation differentiates TWP from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.

 Only 22% of the charities rated by Charity Navigator have obtained a 4-star rating, indicating that TWP consistently executes its mission in a fiscally responsible way and outperforms most other charities in America. Among environmental nonprofits evaluated, only 83 organizations have a 4-star rating. So, when people give to TWP, they can feel confident knowing their contribution is being put to good use and making a real difference for both people and the planet.

Amidst these challenging economic times, donors are demanding more accountability, transparency, and quantifiable results from the charities they choose to support. As America’s independent premier charity evaluator, Charity Navigator highlights the work of efficient charities and provides donors with the information they need to give with confidence. Charity Navigator evaluates ten times more charities than competitors and attracts more visitors to their website than all other charity rating groups combined.

Trees, Water & People is proud to have achieved Charity Navigator’s highest 4-star rating for three consecutive years. Read the review of TWP’s excellent fiscal management at www.charitynavigator.org or www.treeswaterpeople.org.

Notes from the Field: Colorado Homeless Families’ Housing Goes Solar

A resident of Colorado Homeless Families' housing stands next to her newly installed solar heating system.

By Jon Becker, TWP Board President

I knew this day (September 22) was going to be special, even before I showed up.  I’ve been on the crew for several solar heating sytsem installations with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises – so I was familiar with the technology, the process, even the warm and appreciative response from the beneficiaries.  In the past, the recipients have always been Native Americans on reservations, which means I get to interact with wonderful people who live with a deep connection to culture and spirit and this land.

Today, for the first time, we’re off the Rez.  Instead of the Dakotas or Montana, we’re in the Arvada suburb of Denver, and instead of an esteemed member of the Oglala Lakota or the Northern Cheyenne, today’s installation will go on the home of a recently immigrated family from the Ukraine, that’s owned by the wonderful non-profit Colorado Homeless Families.  They’ve developed 45 properties in Arvada to serve as transitional housing to help keep newly poor families from falling into the deeper trap of chronic homelessness and poverty.  We started with coffee and conversation with CHF’s board and volunteers, including dynamic Executive Director Connie Zimmerman.  It was remarkable to learn about the very impressive program they have developed.  Then we walked across the street to start work on our installation – a solar heating system for the 100 year old building that was the original farm house for the property.  Henry’s crew, which included two of his sons, got to work scouting out the site, identifying where to mount the collector and locate the connections into the house.  Connie’s team dove right in too.

Colorado Homeless Families goes solar!

The changing face of homelessness, as well as the global nature of our efforts, was demonstrated by a gentleman from the Congo, with a PhD in engineering and now a resident in Colorado Homeless Families’ housing, who jumped in and helped dig postholes with us.  Lakota mingled with Ukrainian and African, TWP volunteers and CHF staff, board, family and friends.  The rain, always threatening, never did more than lightly sprinkle.  We dug, drilled, lifted, caulked, wired, lunched, talked – and had that amazing experience that the Lakota Solar Enterprises system delivers:  in the same day you go from scratch to an installed working heating system.

I asked our new Ukrainian friend if she had ever heard of a solar heating system, back in the old country.  “No!” she laughed, so I figured that I didn’t need to follow up with the question of whether she could ever imagine that one day in America she would have such a system installed on her home by a crew of Native Americans.  What a great day!

The next day Henry and his crew returned to Arvada and installed a second system on CHF’s office/community building in the same neighborhood.  This installation will serve as a great demonstration of the technology, and will benefit the staff and the local residents who use the space.  Trees, Water & People, Lakota Solar Enterprises, and Colorado Homeless Families are in discussions to explore possibilities of bringing more heating systems to their properties.  Opportunities to conduct installation trainings are also being considered.  At TWP, we could hardly be more excited and pleasantly surprised to see this relationship unfolding.  We didn’t really plan to expand our program to bring jobs and clean energy to the Reservations in this way, but once gain, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.  Stay tuned to hear how this project progresses.

Straw Bale Home Workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center

The Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota, has a major housing crisis. It is common place to have Lakota families living in conditions of extreme overcrowding, with 3 to 4 families inhabiting one three-bedroom home. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewage systems; and many use wood stoves to heat their homes, depleting limited wood resources. The Lakota people are living in third world conditions, right in our own backyard!

In partnership with Henry Red Cloud, Pine Ridge resident and owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, we are working to bring sustainable housing solutions to reservation communities and we need your help! We have started by constructing a straw bale home demonstration site at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), complete with solar heating and lighting. This demonstration site will provide TWP’s Tribal Lands Renewable Energy Program with a place to conduct workshops, share knowledge, and pass on green building skills throughout Indian Country. This will be the beginning of a long-term project to bring hundreds of straw bale homes to the Pine Ridge Reservation, providing families with dignified living conditions that every human being deserves.

You can help support this project by making a donation today! Click here to donte.

“Native Rhythms for Native Energy” to Support Renewables on Tribal Lands

You are invited!

Please join us for a night of cultural exchange and education to support Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program.

When: Thursday, September 15th

Where: Global Village Museum
200 W. Mountain Ave.
Fort Collins, CO

Cost: $10 suggested donation