Brooks’ work keeps low-income families warm, safe

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A former U. S. Air Force officer, Howard Brooks was chief operating officer at Pikes Peak United Way for eight years before becoming executive director of the Energy Resource Center in early 2009. The center employs nearly 50 people and has an annual budget of $4.5 million. It operates in El Paso, Teller, Fremont, Douglas and Elbert counties, with headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Tell us about your organization.

The Energy Resource Center has been around since 1979, and we serve low-income families by keeping them warm and safe. We do energy conservation work, insulation, furnace repair and replacement. We find a lot of carbon-monoxide problems. Low-income people tend to live in the oldest and the leakiest housing. And we find a lot of people living in pretty dangerous situations. Since 1979, we’ve quietly been saving lives by preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. This last fiscal year, we served about 3,900 people. And that was in about 1,100 homes, so it’s a pretty big group of people who are in need. Out of that, we put in 350 new furnaces, and we insulated most of those homes.

How has the economic downturn impacted what you do?

The biggest thing has been the demand for services. We really have so many more people who are in need now than were two or three years ago. So we’ve really had to ramp up and get creative about how we’re able to serve more people. This year we’re serving about three times as many people as we served two years ago. So it’s really required us to be more efficient and more creative in how we spread our resources around the community and take care of more folks.

What funds do you receive from public sources, and how are you able to use them?

We get a large grant through the governor’s energy office to do work for low-income folks. And we find a lot of senior citizens who can’t afford to pay their energy bills. They have the heat turned down to 55 degrees, and they wear and hat and coat in their homes. This grant really helps us to insulate and put in more energy-efficient furnaces for people, so that they can afford to stay warm during the winter and to stay safe. Part of our large grant was economic stimulus money. And we helped to stimulate the economy by employing a couple of dozen unemployed people, mostly out of the construction industry — people who had been building new homes, who were out of work. And these folks are learning the insulation business. We also bought a number of new vehicles for the fleet from local car dealerships, and we bought new equipment from local equipment suppliers. So we’re part of the effort to stimulate the economy. Every dollar that came into our organization from the economic stimulus went really directly into our local economy, and is now helping people to save money on their energy bills.

What’s your biggest initiative for 2011?

Again, just trying to meet the demand. So, in 2010 and 2011, we just anticipate continued increase and demand for what we do. And we’re working really hard on a little fee-for-service project and a fund-raising project to try and raise more money to care for more people.

Audio excerpt of the interview with Howard Brooks.