A Conversation with Cliff Babkirk – WindowDressers Super-Volunteer
We had the pleasure of speaking with Cliff Babkirk, the Local Coordinator for the Wells Community Build. He has been with the Wells team since 2017 and this year marks Well’s 7th Build since 2016. Since 2017 the Wells team has built 1,409 total inserts for their community. This year they are processing 400 inserts (357 new & rewrapping 43) at their Community Build on November 29th – December 8th at the Mather Auditorium, Wells Reserve at Laudholm.
We sat down with Cliff to talk to him about his experience as a seasoned WindowDressers volunteer, local coordinator, measurer, and mentor. He has been involved with nearly every aspect of the program over the years and we wanted to highlight his dedication and passion. WindowDressers truly wouldn’t be the same without him on our team!
How has your role with WindowDressers evolved over time?
“One thing that helps is that we personally have done a lot along the lines of climate action or energy efficiency, here at our house. We have 24 inserts in our house, we have heat pumps for heating, we have solar panels on our roof, and we drive a plug-in hybrid electric car. We’re very in tune with trying to lower our carbon footprint, to lower costs and things like that. So as a result of being with WindowDressers, that’s just another tool, especially when I talk to energy auditors that say, there’s windows, there’s insulation, there’s air sealing, there’s heat pumps, there’s solar. I’ve been out there as an ambassador, with Efficiency Maine, energy auditors, and vendors to say, I want to show you what this insert is and why it works, and I want you to promote it. I’ve also been connecting with assistance groups like York County Community Action, or Habitat for Humanity, and asking them for referrals for folks who are low income.”
“I think with my interest and skill set it has expanded to helping WindowDressers improve their jigs, their process, and going to community builds, to audit and observe along the lines of process improvement. I’ve been instrumental in writing a lot of sections of the Local Coordinators Guide or the Measuring Guide, offering improvements to the software, because I use it. Me and my wife are part of a measuring team. So, if we see something that could maybe demystify it or make it easier to use, we’re making those recommendations.”
“There’s an option in the measuring software that says if you have a question, and you need an expert to answer it then push this button and put the question. It then sends it to me in an email. Somehow that ended up being me, but it’s kind of neat to help these measuring teams whether they’re in Vermont, New Hampshire, Bangor or wherever, figure out the software and come up with creative ways to get their job done. So, I just really enjoy helping them and really enjoy working at the builds.”
“I think my biggest enjoyment is being at community builds, and meeting people when they come in and some of them looking almost frightened when they see all the equipment and the big row of stuff and you try to calm them down and say there’s nothing hard here we’re going to show you how to do things and it’s interesting you go through the day and people seem to be talking with people they’ve never met before and having a good time. And invariably a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘I only volunteered for today, but can I come back Thursday?’ A lot of people say, ‘make sure you call me next year to volunteer.’ So, we’ve maintained the list of all the customers and the volunteers all the way back to 2017. So, when we get ready for 2024, we can pull out this massive email list of people that are experienced, whether they’re a customer or volunteer, they’ve done it before, and they show up and it’s great.”
What do you think makes a Community Build so special?
“Well, I usually refer to community builds as a barn raising for window inserts. So it’s the same concept: strangers and people that know each other come together around the common cause. They know that we’re going to make these window inserts and they’re going to go into people’s homes in our community, they’re going to lower their heating costs and they’re going to make them more comfortable. They don’t cost a lot and in a lot of cases a third of what we make we give them away to the people that just can’t afford them and that’s the most rewarding thing for me.”
“I think for me, it’s just seeing the new people walk in every shift and seeing them evolve from being anxious to being an expert. And the ones that come back and say, ‘I do the heat bridge every year can I do it again this year?’ Absolutely. There’s this atmosphere as far as the process. Every time you do it, you learn something new, you make some little tweak, you make some improvement, and you encourage the people that are there to speak up or if you see something, say something. If you see too many wrinkles coming from this table let’s go over and find out how we can make that a little better and things like that. I think people appreciate being trained and being encouraged that they’re doing a good job. One thing we’ve tried to do is make sure we make the rounds and tell people they’re doing a good job and if it’s not quite what we need we advise them on making adjustments and things like that. But just knowing that this year almost 400 inserts at Wells are going to go out the door and go into people’s homes, lower their heating bills, and make them more comfortable. That’s what gets me excited about this.”
I’d love to know what your work background is because you have so much expertise on so many aspects of the WindowDressers program.
“When I came out of the military, I went to work for a company called Fairchild Semiconductor. I went to work for them, and I had an engineering background, but I started out doing testing and then design of integrated circuits and then was head of an IT organization at one point and then got up to the point of the assistant to the R&D director. So, I was there for 43 years in one company and had maybe six careers. So, I’ve got a lot of software experience, engineering experience, process improvement experience, team building, things like that, and all of which comes in handy with WindowDressers. A couple of years ago when they had a problem with the automated saw, I worked with some of the vendors and got that whole operation upgraded to a new computer and new software that does more for us.”
“With an engineering background, my perspective when I look at this workshop going on is you always look at something and say that can be improved, that should be changed, or this could be made easier. And it’s fun when that happens, and you see that change implemented next year.”
“There was one example recently. It’s very hard to center the insert on the tabletop once you put the plastic down and find the center so that it lines up on the seam. So last year, I just got a magic marker and a ruler, and we drew lines, alignment lines on the board and I told Joee, my apologies but we needed a way to be able to figure out where the center was. Over the summer she refurbished all the tables and she put those lines on them. So that was out of a suggestion that we said, ‘this could improve the process’ and I think in general that it helps a lot.”
What drives you in this work with WindowDressers?
“I just like helping other people. Fundamentally, whether it’s strangers or people I know. You probably could do something to lower their energy costs or make them more comfortable or just make them feel happier in their home. Tell me what to do and we’ll do it. So, I think that’s the fundamental thing that drives me, I just like helping people.”
Thank you to Cliff for taking the time to speak with us about his years volunteering with WindowDressers as our resident expert and all-around super-volunteer. We are lucky to have him on our team and excited for another great Build season. The Wells Community Build is right around the corner – sign up to volunteer with Cliff and his team today!
The Wells Build takes place Nov. 29th – Dec. 8th, 2023, at Mather Auditorium, Wells Reserve at Laudholm 55 Skinner Mill Rd., Wells, ME 04090
Click this link to volunteer at this Community Build.
Click this link to see the full list of Community Builds happening this year.