South Florida Has a Whole New Reason to Shine
Camillus House is Now Equipped with Solar Panels

Now complete, the Brownsville Solar Retrofit project is the result of an experimental course to incorporate a hands-on approach to philanthropy for students at Florida International University. The course entails a speech competition, in which students would be representing their individually chosen non-profit organization in a race to win a $25,000 grant. Communication Arts student, Chloe Danielle Castro, won the grant for IDEAS For Us, a worldwide organization, whose mission is to engage communities in environmental awareness solutions.

brownsville_1Being that IDEAS For Us is an environmentally friendly and sustainably based organization, Castro new that she would have a strong foundation of support in making this vision come to life. As the course progressed it became evident that individuals were not satisfied seeing the money go to an environmentally friendly organization, as opposed to a homeless shelter or a bone marrow clinic. The differential component seemed to be that what moves individuals to benefit others is the self-gratification that comes with knowing that a specific person or persons will directly benefit from the grant. This was a pivotal component that ultimately changed the direction of the project. So together, she and the team at IDEAS For Us created a solar project concept by identifying a set of practical goals that would have the largest community impact. They decided that the project would entail retrofitting the lighting and thermostats, plus adding a 10-kilowatt solar array on one of the Camillus House residencies. The benefits of this bi-fold plan will help to lower utility bills for Camillus House, and power a portion of their building from clean renewable energy, ultimately allowing them to allocate more funding to their mission of helping people in need. With a positive implication for both the community and the environment, it’s safe to say that this project has planted two trees with one shovel, so to speak.

Large-scale corporations including Citizen Energy, and Advanced Green Technologies have made hefty contributions to the project, donated in both monetary funds and sweat equity. Thanks to AGT Solar, the project received a refund from FPL, which allowed for the team to double the solar array from 10 Kilowatts to 20 kilowatts – a massive upgrade and accomplishment for the project.

brownsville_2During the (start-finish) six months, the team at IDEAS (including Christopher Castro, Christopher Stampar,), the staff at Camillus House, AGT, and Citizen Energy attended conference calls up to twice a month. There was a lot of healthy communication between all entities involved and everyone was genuinely enthralled to be a part of this philanthropic effort. Multiple site visits were conducted and volumes of effort have been contributed to make this project complete. But by far, the permitting took the longest; its safe to say that permitting allotted for 3 months worth of project time. Projects of this magnitude, and more importantly, those that include solar energy require extra attention from the city and thus a prolonged confirmation date. In it’s entirety, the solar project at Brownsville has been the result of an $80,000 philanthropic effort that started as FIU’s pilot contest to initiate altruism and charity into their curriculum, and ended as a community effort in philanthropy. My aspirations are for this project to serves as philanthropy beacon for students who want to make a difference in communities around the world.

-Chloe Danielle Castro