by Gerald Espinosa – SEI Volunteer Work Trader

I was on the way to move back to Denver, on a roadtrip from California with my dad. I had passed through Paonia last summer while camping in Crested Butte. That’s when I found out about SEI. I had just started exploring a budding passion for renewable energy back in California, and I thought, this town has it all, and SEI on top of it! But when would I ever get the chance to come back and make a go of this?

Originally my dad and I planned to pass through Paonia because I told him of Revolution Brewery, and we like to share a good raft beer over father son time. It was a Saturday, and I offhandedly told him of SEI. Having already been acquainted with their work, I wasn’t necessarily looking to go check out the campus again. But my dad said “heck why not.” So we drove over and met instructor Kris Sutton in the backyard and got to talking for 30 minutes. It finally clicked, now was the time to make a go of this! I called it serendipitous, my dad called it fate.

Kris Sutton explained the work trade program as an attractive means to make my education affordable. I continued on to Denver, applied to SEI’s Solar Professionals Certificate Program and work trade, and as soon as I caught up with friends again, left for Paonia. It took me two days to drive back in my electric car over the Rocky Mountains, a tiny fiat 500e packed with camping gear and two bikes. Slow travel, affording me several opportunities to explore mountain towns I had previously skipped over, meeting new people and seeing museums and parks along the way.

This summer at SEI I will be working on grant writing and other development projects. I’ll also have my fair share of getting dirty around the yard. My second day on the job I helped Kris and Danny pour the concrete for the first EV charging station in Paonia! And my car was the first car to get a charge.

Now more people can take a scenic trip through the West Elks, the electric way. In addition to SEI I’m doing an organic farming apprenticeship through WWOOFing, learning of permaculture at one of Paonia’a many organic farms, Frugalbundance. This summer will be a busy one.

Call it fate, call it serendipitous. I think its also just something about Paonia that draws people in to show them something special, that and the contagious community and mission of SEI.