Celebrating 10 Years at Bay Area North Coast!

Our 10th anniversary!

My name is Kelsey Radmilovic and I am grateful to be the Sr. Outreach & Workforce Development Coordinator at the Bay Area North Coast (BANC) region at GRID Alternatives, where we work in partnership with Tribal Communities.  

The BANC satellite office is about 2.5 hours away from our Bay Area Regional office, and a world away from guaranteed access to Wi-Fi and electricity. We are known as the “small and mighty” office, currently, we have 4 construction staff (including our director), and 2 outreach & workforce staff. Our region serves 4 counties that stretch from just north of the Bay Area, to way up northern California, covering over 10,000 square miles. Our rural region is beautiful and wild. 

This spring BANC is celebrating our 10th anniversary! As our team has been reflecting on how much we have grown over the past 10 years, I was fortunate to connect with the original Outreach Coordinator, Maggie Graham for an interview. It was great to hear a bit of her story and to see how while much has changed and grown, some things that have been consistent through the years are at the heart of the work we do at BANC. 

I hope you enjoy this interview with Maggie as much as I did! 

Please introduce yourself and share the story of how you originally came to work at GRID North Coast. 

Maggie Graham

I'm Maggie Graham. I currently work as an ecologist for The Understory Initiative, which is a small nonprofit in Southern Oregon. I'm from a small town in southern Appalachia and I was the GRID North Coast Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator from when we opened the office in March 2014 through the end of 2016. How I came to GRID, by a wonderful chance! At the time I was looking at various AmeriCorps jobs, I did my undergraduate degree in forest ecology, but I also had a deep interest in environmental justice, especially in rural communities, because I grew up in one. That is what drew me to GRID. (GRID) also had a bunch of AmeriCorps positions at the time. I remember applying for several SolarCorps positions, which I did not get. But then I got the job at the North Coast office, and I was just thrilled because I had lived in Southern Oregon and just really loved Southern Oregon and Northern California. And the opportunity to work in a rural community in the mountains that in some ways reminded me a lot of where I grew up, though quite different also. 

When you worked at the Bay Area North Coast or BANC as we call it now, what were your main job responsibilities? 

At first, I was a combined Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator, so in that role I was training community members, giving them the orientation to volunteer to install solar with GRID. So, the basics of solar installation and then also giving classes to families who were getting solar, so that they knew about what they were getting into. I also taught clients the basic operation of solar systems and how the billing and everything worked. And because we were launching the office, and it was just Cora Saxton (who is still the Director of North Coast) and I. A big part of my responsibility, especially at first, was recruiting clients and volunteers, as well as developing relationships with Tribal Partners and carrying through relationships that had been developed by my predecessor. 

Sometimes I had to pull in my friends to volunteer on random days. Saying please can you come today?! I will volunteer for you on Saturday if you come! 

Can you describe what the team was like during your time here at North Coast? 

It was just Cora Saxton and I working out of the North Coast office for the first nine months and then we hired our first SolarCorps Fellow, in March 2015. Then we hired a second Fellow that following summer to help with outreach. 

It was about 2.5 years in that we were like, OK, it's time, we needed a separate full-time outreach and volunteer person or two outreach people. At that time, I believe my title was Outreach and Program Manager, and I was covering not only outreach and volunteering but also the program tasks! It was such a relief when we decided to expand to two outreach staff. 

There is not a typical day at GRID - I would imagine it was like that back then too, but can you describe a typical experience that you had when you were here? 

That question is fun to think about, there certainly was no typical day, which I really loved about the job, that it was always different and always dynamic.  

At the time we were working in Mendocino, Lake, and Humboldt counties. So about once a month, I'd have a day in each of those counties where I would have meetings set up throughout the day with various partners, clients, and volunteer groups. It was so fun to go out for a couple of days just talking with everybody that needed to be coordinated within a certain area. 

And then other days I would sit and scan paperwork all day and white out Social Security numbers and make sure everything was stored with the correct file path. Other days we were just trying to figure out how to get the right data report that you wanted. Some days it was loading the truck with Cora or hopping on the roof to help finish a project. Other days I cold-called people and just seeing who was interested in partnering with us, and calmly left the door open for them to respond if interested. I loved the variety and that every day was a little bit different. 

What were some of the highlights for you in this role and at GRID and working in the North Coast community? 

I just love the North Coast. It is beautiful. Driving around seeing different communities and meeting different people from various backgrounds. I am so energized by people, and their stories, just learning about their lives. It was fun to connect with the clients across the North Coast and the volunteers and see everyone come together with a common purpose to save money and help the Earth in the process. 
I also loved working with my GRID colleagues. I am still friends with folks that I met during my time at GRID now, so many kind and inspiring people. I have worked in several places since I worked at GRID and looking back, I am always so grateful for my team on the North Coast. 

Maggie standing next to Bay Area's North Coast office volunteers

I enjoyed the times when we got a good, committed group of volunteers out. This wasn't necessarily an easy installation, and it probably took us twice as long, but once we worked with a group of middle school or high school girls from Redwood Valley. Those girls engaged in the construction of a solar system to get them up on the roof. That homeowner had many grandkids, and I would run into her around town too! 

An installation that really inspired me was in Lake County. It was a ground mount system; it was the first ground mount we did. She asked if she could plant vegetables under the solar array. We said that they probably shouldn't do that. And that spurred a question for me that has guided my career over the past six years. My background is in forest ecology. As an ecologist, I work with native plants and pollinators, and about half of my work is looking at what you can plant under solar arrays and how you can steward the land under solar infrastructure. 

What were some of the challenges? 

Starting a new office was a challenge! It was also my first full-time job. It was fun but required creativity and patience. I was grateful for Cora, and we worked well as a team together, navigating the challenge of opening an office, developing new partnerships, and unexpected challenges with clients and housing and building types.  

For example, we could not target this one part of Eureka because all the houses were from a particular era and built in a particular way. There were just so many unexpected twists and turns. So that was a challenge. 

One of the most challenging things for me was learning to navigate the variety of land ownership structures on the North Coast. It was eye-opening for me. I had never bought a home and didn’t know about the complex liens[is the legal right of a creditor to sell the collateral property of a debtor who fails to meet the obligations of a loan contract] and resale restrictions that can go along with home ownership. I also grew up in a small town that does not have tribal land and had never worked in tribal communities before.  I certainly learned a lot.  

How would you describe GRID North Coast to someone outside of the organization? 

I tell people about GRID all the time! I tell folks that GRID is an awesome nonprofit based in the Bay Area and working throughout Northern California or throughout California and across the US to increase access to affordable renewable energy especially working in underserved communities, and that the North Coast Office serves Mendocino, Lake and Humboldt counties in rural Northern California.  

My time at GRID really inspired where I am today in my career.