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Rising Sun's Climate Careers Program: A Resilient Youth Empowering Initiative

Light bulbs on display with a Rising Sun sign

Since 1994, BayREN’s partner, Rising Sun Center for Opportunity (Rising Sun), has worked at the intersection of economic equity and climate resilience. Their Climate Careers program, started in 2000, is a highly innovative earn-and-learn program that recruits local young adults into meaningful training and green employment pathways. Participants join the program as Energy Specialists who provide Green House Call (GHC) services that help the local communities install no-cost energy and water conservation measures. Previously, GHCs have been conducted as part of an interactive process that involved educational in-home visits. In response to COVID-19, they have gone contact-free and participants receive virtual assistance.

Reflecting on adaptations to the pandemic, the organization has grown and prioritized the community despite challenges. BayREN staff recently met with Wells Brown, Director of Youth Programs and a program alum, to discuss the challenges faced by the organization and the operational changes that shifted their program model in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions limiting in-person interactions, youth employment opportunities were diminished; however, Rising Sun was still able to remotely train and employ 17 youth to support Green House Call efforts throughout the nine Bay Area counties. With a smaller youth group in training, the program was able to provide more personalized resources and offer more one-on-one time for skill development. Brown also highlighted the opportunity to make certain offerings more accessible to the community. “We were able to digitize some of our processes, like the initial home survey,” which now allows customers to submit it at their discretion. “It was interesting to see that we were effectively reaching people in new and different ways.” He noticed that some customers submitted forms late at night or early in the morning, taking advantage of the fact that this new tool allowed them to engage in energy efficiency services and offerings after hours. Brown hopes to continue reaping the benefits of these newfound processes to provide services to more residents through a duality of in person and virtual offerings after pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Rising Sun has a long-standing commitment to the community that is grounded in equity, resiliency, and transparency. These principles combined with an ability to quickly adapt to challenges are what make the organization an important and effective climate leader. Rising Sun has made impactful progress in ensuring that the climate workforce is diverse and comes from communities that are typically left out of the green economy. To date, the Climate Careers program has employed 1,985 young adults and has provided services to 50,000 Northern California residents. Among the households receiving services in 2020, significant percentages — 21% Spanish, 20% Mandarin, and 8% Cantonese — identify as households speaking a language other than English. With 11% of program participants identifying as renters and 51% as residents of low to low-moderate income households, Rising Sun aims to serve a range of individuals that reflect the diversity of our region, ensuring that impacts are felt equitably.

BayREN has partnered with Rising Sun since 2019 to increase access to programs for communities that have been historically underserved. Jeffery Liang, BayREN’s Single Family project manager and the Rising Sun partner liaison, shares that "Rising Sun really helps BayREN achieve our twin goals of bringing energy efficiency assistance to people who don't often get it and training up a young workforce to do this important work." J. Paul Harrington, part of the Solano Economic Development Corporation and the BayREN representative for Solano County, shares that Rising Sun and BayREN’s partnership has been a highlight for his county: “This past year, Rising Sun was able to provide Solano County youth access to professional development opportunities and also provided residents with full access to Green House Call services. Energy Specialists were able to serve some of our most economically challenged areas and distribute hundreds of LED light bulbs and other conservation devices at no cost to residents.” The partnership has allowed BayREN to expand the reach of energy efficiency throughout the Bay Area while also contributing to the region’s aggressive climate-related goals.

Metrics from the 2020 Climate Report

Workforce training programs like Rising Sun are crucial to meeting the labor demands of the green economy. Rising Sun helps expand green jobs to a broad range of communities with varying levels of education. Beyond the Climate Careers program, the organization also offers an equally impactful adult training program, Opportunity Build. Co-led by Senior Program Manager and Opportunity Build alum Marlin Jeffreys, the program is an industry-certified construction training program that provides a path to union apprenticeship in the skilled trades.

BayREN is honored to be a partner of Rising Sun and looks forward to continued collaboration.

Are you interested in receiving a Green House Call? Learn more here.