Training Manager, Denver/Jefferson County Weatherization Services
During the cold winter months, Eric Lopez is accustomed to covering his windows with blankets, wearing sweat suits to bed and turning his space heaters to the highest setting. His monthly heating bills have often skyrocketed upwards of $200. As an unemployed, single father, Eric had a hard time paying the bills. He knew that upgrading his home’s heating and cooling systems would lower his costs and make his family more comfortable, but he just couldn’t afford to make the improvements.
When Veterans Green Jobs came to Eric’s home to provide free weatherization services, things started to look up. Through every step of the process – from the auditing, to the furnace replacement, to the final inspection – he had a hunch that Veterans Green Jobs could potentially offer him much more than an energy efficient home.
“I had read about Veterans Green Jobs in the newspaper. I wanted to work for them,” he says.
With two decades of construction industry experience under his belt, and several classes toward a higher education degree in energy efficiency, Eric recognized that he was qualified to work for the nonprofit.
He brought something else to the table: he is a veteran of the U.S. Marines.
“I was mesmerized by the allure of the Marine Corps: the reputation, the history, what it meant to America. I wanted to be a part of it,” says Eric, a Colorado native who joined the military at age 18. He was a machine gunner in the Military Occupation Specialty 0331, and was deployed to the Far East. After four years of active duty, Eric chose not to reenlist so that he could spend more time with his family.
But times were bleak. “I didn’t have a vision of the future. I felt lost. The economy was bad and jobs were hard to find,” Eric recalls.
That’s when he made an entry into the construction industry, where he gained many of the skills he would ultimately need at Veterans Green Jobs – from hands-on building experience, to project management, to Occupational Safety and Health Administration training.
When the economy crashed in 2009, Eric was laid off. He quickly realized that he needed to make a strategic move for his future. He decided to enroll in an energy efficiency program at Red Rocks Community College, directing his studies into a field he thought showed great promise.
“I saw how energy was taking the forefront of the economy. Any job that had to do with anything important was a green job. So I took Energy 101 and solar photovoltaics,” Eric says. Auditing and business classes soon followed.
Today, the opportunity to work as training manager for Veterans Green Jobs’ Denver and Jefferson County Weatherization Services program hearkens back to Eric’s early affinity for the Marines.
“What appealed to me about Veterans Green Jobs was the focus on veterans. It’s a brotherhood, camaraderie. In the battle field you’re all together working toward the same thing. It’s similar here – we’re working for energy.”
As for Eric’s improved home environment, he couldn’t be more excited about the upgrades.
His eyes lighting up as he speaks, Eric says: “With my 1976 furnace that was 60 percent efficient, I was using 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy every month. The new one is 95 percent efficient, and my kilowatt hour usage has reduced to 215. My bills have dropped from $200 to $60.
I don’t know how much money I’ll save this winter, but it will be significant.”