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What We Can Learn From Portland

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It seems like all we hear these days is bad news -- rising poverty, increasing violence, unprecedented weather disasters -- the list goes on. But there's another story out there, one we don't hear enough about. It's the story of a transformation that's quietly unfolding as the green economy takes root in neighborhoods and cities across America. Cities like Portland, Oregon.

Three years ago, Green For All teamed up with the city of Portland on a pilot program designed to weatherize homes and cut energy waste. We believed that the city's energy efficiency efforts could do more than just slash pollution and fight global warming. Done right, this work could lift people out of poverty and change lives.

Already, the Clean Energy Works Oregon program has made more than 900 homes energy efficient -- cutting five million pounds of carbon pollution and generating $12 million for the local economy. Most importantly, the program has put roughly 500 people to work, with a focus on hiring people who face barriers to finding jobs. People like Sary Dobhran.

Sary is just like a lot of us. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 2003. Armed with a degree in environmental studies, she hoped to find a good job and work to make the world a better place.

She never thought she would end up on welfare. But when she was four months pregnant, her son's father passed away, leaving her on her own to support a small child in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Sary had worked hard all her life. She'd never had trouble finding a job. But now she found herself going from interview to interview with nothing to show for it. She and her son moved in with a friend, and she relied on public assistance to get by. "It really affected me," Sary says. "All people saw when they looked at me was a single mom with no job. I wanted them to know what I was capable of."

Fortunately, she didn't give up. She enrolled in an apprenticeship program with Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., and picked up the skills she needed to work in the budding energy efficiency sector. When a contractor from the Clean Energy Works program approached Oregon Tradeswomen looking for female workers -- who were underrepresented in construction industries and therefore a hiring target for the program -- Sary finally got the chance she needed.

The job offer meant she'd finally be able to buy her son some clothes, move into an apartment of their own, and fix her car. More importantly, she had leapt into an industry with a growing number of jobs -- jobs that aren't at risk of being shipped abroad -- and the promise of a stable future. Today, Sary is a certified energy analyst and leads energy efficiency audits on homes. She takes pride in her job. She knows that by cutting electricity use, she's fighting global warming -- and helping other families save on their utility bills.

She's also aware that things could have turned out differently had it not been for federal funding for programs like the apprenticeship and Clean Energy Works Oregon.

"I wouldn't be here today without programs that were put in place in hopes that someone like me would take advantage of them," Sary says. "I'm college-educated. I'm a hard worker. My only barrier to employment was being a single mom in a bad economy. And there are a lot of other people out there just like me." Today, Sary is thriving.

It may not make the evening news, but I'm hearing more and more stories like this every day. Clean Energy Works Oregon is expanding, with a goal of transforming 6,000 homes in three years. Cities across the country are replicating the program. And we're thrilled to help launch a new effort, MPower, which will bring energy efficiency to affordable housing -- and put even more people like Sary to work.

City by city and block by block, we can create a better world for our kids. We can modernize the way we use energy. Cut pollution. Fight global warming. Put people to work. And get America back on its feet. In places like Portland, it's already happening.

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