Community Builder: Tami VandenBerg Connects Sustainability with Helping People

Solar Panels Atop Pyramid Scheme. Courtesy: Pyramid Scheme.

Grand Rapids, MI – Local business owner and community leader, Tami VandenBerg, is going bold in sustainability with the installation of solar panels this summer at both of her co-owned businesses, The Meanwhile Bar and The Pyramid Scheme, as well as at her home in Grand Rapids.

“In everything I do, I think about how I can be sustainable. Since I was a kid, I remember always recycling. I was that annoying kid who insisted on recycling. I still do. And I get excited when I see windmills. I’ve always loved animals, and I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years.”

Vandenberg is the Executive Director of Well House, which works to provide safe, affordable housing to homeless people. Under VandenBerg’s direction, Well House has doubled their capacity for permanent housing with the purchase of four additional houses.

VandenBerg says that Brett Little, executive director at the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability (AES), offered Wellhouse an energy audit. AES is a non-profit organization which helps buildings ‘get green.’ Little connected SRInrgy, a solar solutions company, with Well House. SRInrgy approached WellHouseGR about installing solar. Vandenberg said, “Well House is currently focused on tightening up the house and conservation first. But we got to talking about solar for my house and businesses,” said VandenBerg.

The “SRI” in SRInergy stands for “Socially Responsible Individual” to emphasize their offering of green energy solutions to help people reduce their carbon footprint, generate clean power and stabilize consumer energy costs for the long term. Based in Novi, Michigan, SRInrgy is installing solar panels at The Pyramid Scheme, The Meanwhile Bar as well as at VandenBerg’s home.

Instead of paying for a full installation of solar panels at once, SRInrgy offers a monthly payment plan.“They made it really easy for us”, said VandenBerg. The monthly payment for the panels will be about the same as Vandenberg had been paying for electricity already. The panels will be paid for over a 10 year period, after that, “We’ll be paying nothing for our electricity. Plus we’re not paying for damage from unclean energy,” said Vandenberg.

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The solar panels are expected to last 25 years, providing at least 15 years worth of free electricity from the sun.

A major part of what motivates VandenBerg is helping the people who have been marginalized or left behind. VandenBerg has advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana in Grand Rapids and for a city ordinance to allow food trucks to operate on private property. She serves on the Mayor’s Gun Policy Task force, she is a member of Cure Violence and she is the co-founder of Ladyfest, an annual showcase of women musicians and artists in the area. VandenBerg has also chaired the board of the Grand Rapids Red Project, an organization which works to improve health, reduce risk and prevent HIV.

“It is important to me that people know that everyone has value,” said VandenBerg.

VandenBerg is on this year’s Host Committee for the Green Gala which will be held in August, at the Plante/Moran/Christman Building at Fish Ladder Park. After being inspired at the 2013 Green Gala, Vandenberg supported a ban on fracking in Michigan by holding a fundraiser for Let’s Ban Fracking at The Meanwhile Bar earlier this year.

VandenBerg also participates in ClimateRide, which she says is a way to “raise funding for Well House, raise awareness for Well House and climate issues as well as get our butts in shape.”

VandenBerg sees a connection between environmental sustainability and helping people, especially on promoting healthy living. VandenBerg said, “Taking care of the environment is taking care of people.”

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