At-risk youth agency, Community Action, to promote energy program

[caption id="attachment_19933" align="alignright" width="285" caption="Starting from the bottom left: solar ambassadors-in-training DaisyAnn Larkins, Jesus Avalos, Aaron Austin, Liliana Alvarez, Johnathon Robles, Cameron Malone, Daisy Cervantes, Emma Findley, Instructor: Mike Paik, Scott Ellis, Job Coach: Victoria Gonzales"][/caption]

NAPA – Two Napa nonprofits are partnering with One Block Off the Grid – known as 1BOG – to train youth to talk up solar in the area.

The idea is to stimulate the adoption of solar in Napa while giving youth a foothold in the new industry, said Jim Tomlinson, director of the Napa Valley Solar Partnership, an arm of Community Action Napa Valley.

Community Action received a community services block grant of $70,000 to "do something green that involved the low-income community," according to its finance director Laurie Schuyler.

"We wanted to do something with solar, but at the same time we wanted to give young people who have never had a job an opportunity to get one. Since we don't have a large number of installers in Napa at this point, we decided on sales and marketing training rather than installation."

Community Action partnered with On the Move, a nonprofit with a community center in Napa called Voices, and with San Francisco-based 1BOG, a for-profit that puts together community group-discount programs for residential solar.

The resultant Napa Valley Solar Partnership has enrolled nine young people initially for the 10-week program. They'll learn people and fundamental job skills at Voices and then be trained in solar marketing basics, such as the advantages of solar, pricing tiers, solar resources and choosing an installer.

Then they'll be put to work as "Solar Outreach Associates" by 1BOG, canvassing neighborhoods and manning tables outside businesses and at conferences and fairs.

"This is a match made in heaven," said 1BOG CEO Dave Llorens. "The kids get paid while being trained, and the Napa community gets raised awareness of solar in general, and 1BOG's program as well."

During the first part of their training at Voices, the group will be paid from the stimulus grant; during the second phase with 1BOG, they'll earn wages and commissions.

Although the program is slated to run out in September, its leaders hope to find funding to continue it if it can be shown to have generated jobs and solar business.

"Young people starting out in the job market are facing especially bleak prospects in a recession," said Ms. Schuyler. "We hope this program will give them an opportunity to earn money, gain basic job skills and receive some technical training in an emerging industry while doing something positive for the community."

According to Mr. Tomlinson, if solar installations pick up in Napa, attracting more installers, the training should lead naturally to jobs in either sales, or with additional training, in installation.

To leverage the efforts of the Solar Outreach Associates, the Napa Valley Solar Partnership will continue to offer free community workshops to help residents understand solar and will prescreen solar installers to make it easier for residents to contact local installers that meet industry standards for best practices.

"We're also helping low-income households connect to resources to go solar as well," said Mr. Tomlinson.