All-veteran Solar Spring Break team explores a new type of service

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June 05, 2018

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People in front of newly installed solar system
Perry Tech students & Sacramento homeowner in front of a newly installed solar system on their last day of Solar Spring Break

If GRID ever needed a racing team, students from Perry Technical Institute would be the best pit crew around. Racking, microinverters and modules went up on the Sacramento-area roof in an organized and efficient manner while the future electricians of the group skillfully wired the 5.6 kilowatt solar electric system. Their second installation of the week may have come together in lightning speed, but efficiency and safety weren’t this team’s only notable characteristics.

The Perry Tech students were participating in GRID’s Solar Spring Break, an alternative break and service learning opportunity for college students. This particular team was unique because all of its members were veterans from different branches of the military. They are all currently studying at a trades school in Washington and connected with this opportunity through the Veterans Conservation Corps.

It’s not everyday that different parts of GRID’s work so perfectly intersect, but this all-veterans Solar Spring Break team forged a meaningful connection between our collegiate programming and Troops to Solar initiative, both supported by our longtime partner Wells Fargo.

Each of the team members specialized in different areas of expertise – some were soon-to-be electricians, others future HVAC and Information Technology technicians – but all of them were united by a curiosity about solar energy and a deep understanding of service. 

People hold solar panel in hardhats
“I think everything can be service-oriented, but not everything is. GRID is doing a great job in terms of connecting service-related work to building solar systems for low-income families,” said participant Kim Pham, who spent two years volunteering for GRID Bay Area after leaving a career as a nuclear engineer in the Navy. With a passion for renewable energy, she aspires to build a career for herself as a solar designer and connect others in the veteran community to the renewable energy industry. Happy to be back on the roof installing solar with GRID and doing so alongside fellow veterans kept a smile on Kim’s face throughout the day.

Just like students on the 18 other Solar Spring Break teams that spent a week of service-learning with GRID, these 10 strangers had grown close to one another by the end of the week. Erupting with laughter while they worked, the team developed inside jokes and a humorous way of communicating that made it seem like they had known each other for years. 

When asked how they could get the job done so efficiently and while simultaneously building special team bonds Kim replied, “that’s just what the veteran community does,” a sentiment that was met with head nods of agreement from former Marine Nick Freeburg and others around him who were harnessed and ready to climb onto the roof.

As each team member stared up with pride at the solar system that would soon be producing energy for an eager homeowner, Solar Spring Break imparted one more common piece of personal history for each of them: the opportunity to serve a community member in need and gain hands-on solar installation experience alongside one other.