Warming Hearts and Homes

Students use their education for good in the Pittsburgh community

By Sarah Burke

As temperatures drop, many Pittsburgh residents struggle to keep up with rising utility bills. Thanks to generous supporters, Carnegie Mellon University student organization Freedom by Design is helping them save on heating costs by winterizing their homes.

In 2019, 44 donors gave $2,590 to Freedom by Design’s CMU Crowdfunding campaign. The group’s most successful day of fundraising was December 3 — or Giving CMU Day, the university’s global philanthropy event.

This community support, along with in-kind gifts from corporate partner Frost King, made it possible for Freedom by Design to assemble and distribute 40 weatherization kits to families living in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty, Larimer and Homewood neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh residents learn about the contents of the Freedom by Design weatherization kits
Weatherization kit recipients learned about how to install the kit's contents at a distribution event held by Freedom by Design (photos were taken prior to social distancing measures due to the coronavirus pandemic)

“I love the opportunity to engage with other students on a design project outside of the classroom,” said Eddie Fischer, a fifth-year architecture student and director of Freedom by Design. “FBD gives us the chance to work with people in Pittsburgh to make a real difference.”

Like Eddie, most members of Freedom by Design are studying architecture at CMU. They’ve worked together to create a detailed installation guide for the weatherization kits, which include door sweeps, weather stripping, window insulation and socket sealers to reduce cold air coming into recipients’ homes.

“Last winter, we wanted to offer extra items and more tools that would allow people to install the items more easily,” Eddie said.

Because of Giving CMU Day supporters, Freedom by Design was able to add more permanent weatherization options, a multi-use screwdriver, masking tape and a measuring tape to each kit.

Students worked with local nonprofits — the Larimer Consensus Group, the Kingsley Association and the Build a Bridge Foundation — to identify families in need and host two distribution and demonstration events. They also assisted residents with home installation as needed.

“I got to explore Pittsburgh and understand the city in a way that was not focused on CMU and campus,” said sophomore Hannah Haytko-Desalvo, co-public relations manager for Freedom by Design.

In 2020, the students have adapted to the unique challenges of COVID-19. They’re hard at work building their next batch of weatherization kits while practicing social distancing.

“We believe that even though assembling and distributing the kits may be more difficult this year, it is especially important that we do,” said sophomore Gabrielle Benson, Freedom by Design’s development manager. “Members of the community will be spending more time at home this winter.”

This year, Giving CMU Day is Tuesday, December 1. You can join the CMU community to create meaningful opportunities for student organizations like Freedom by Design.

Learn more about Giving CMU Day

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