By Stan Johnson, Executive Director and Founder, and JD Jackson, Chief Operating Officer, SEEED

What does a thriving community look like?

At SEEED, we believe a thriving community is possible when its residents, especially those in under-resourced neighborhoods, are empowered to have a voice in the programs, polices, and practices that impact them. From combating climate change to generational poverty, strengthening existing assets is essential to creating community resiliency and lasting change from the bottom up.

SEEED serves youth and adults in the greater Knoxville area, providing pathways out of poverty through career readiness training, environmental education, and community engagement. We help our community secure living-wage jobs of the future and educate the public about climate solutions, among many other initiatives. Overall, SEEED ensures the most vulnerable members of our city have the opportunities, education, and experience they need to succeed, build generational wealth, and decrease their carbon footprint.

Right now, we’re excited to increase our services in two key focus areas: solar homes and workforce development. A recent Department of Energy (DOE) award will help us accomplish this work.

Developing a roadmap for a just energy ecosystem in Knoxville and beyond

This spring, DOE awarded SEEED and 17 other groups and organizations $3.6 million through its Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize. DOE introduced this first-of-its-kind competition to support entrepreneurship and innovation in communities historically underserved in federal climate and energy technology funding.

This award serves as a reminder that miracles do happen: Out of over 1,000 applicants, DOE recognized the work SEEED is doing in the Knoxville region and wants to help us to do even more.

With our portion of the award, we want to design a community-driven, just energy ecosystem, encourage the distribution of clean energy benefits and develop clean-energy job training for disadvantaged youth. We’re so thrilled to use these funds to continue the excellent work we’ve already started in the community.

Building energy-efficient solar homes

Last month, we broke ground on our second energy-efficient solar house in east Knoxville. Like our first home in Lonsdale, this one will have solar panels, a backup solar battery, a micro-communication grid, a tankless water heater, concrete walls, and smart-home technology.

Once complete, the home will be available for sale below market rates to a low-income family, allowing them to build equity and save money with lower utility costs.

And we don’t want to stop at just two. Knoxville is in dire need of affordable, sustainable housing. We intend to keep expanding this program and build several more green solar homes over the next few years.

After all, nothing stops poverty like home ownership. It’s one of the key tenants of building generational wealth and helping our community thrive long-term.

Creating the workforce of the future

One of our common refrains at SEEED is that nothing stops a bullet like a job. Tragically, we have seen a rise in gun violence over the last several years. But we are dedicated to disrupting this pattern of violence through our programs, where we bring in and pay at-risk youth and young adults to build necessary life skills, job skills, and placement skills that will equip them for a better future.

Our Green Construction Program provides an on-the-job worksite at each of the solar homes we build. The program pays these young adults to learn sustainable construction skills to secure a living-wage job in the workforce of the future.

At our first solar home, we employed two students from the program. We’re looking to bring in even more for future projects.

Creating healthy, sustainable, thriving communities

Since 2009, SEEED has worked to advance energy justice outcomes in the under-resourced, historically Black communities in Knoxville. Most recently, SEEED participated as a member of the Mayor’s Climate Council and liaison to the Council’s Equity Working Group, charged with screening climate strategies for equity.

Over the years, we have expanded our services and pivoted to meet changing community needs – from housing assistance for those affected by COVID-19 to rising gun violence to energy-efficient, affordable housing. We are checking off all the boxes, ensuring development without displacement in the areas of Knoxville we serve.

SEEED’s vision is to create healthy and sustainable communities where we can all thrive. We are thankful for this DOE award that will allow us to grow our reach and help turn our vision into a reality.

Visit our website or follow us on social media to learn more about us, our programs, and upcoming events.

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