The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been around for 45 years and has served more than 8m households, saving families money and making homes healthier and safer. From the beginning, women have been a driving force for improving service and increased access to WAP. This post is part of a series highlighting the contributions of women to WAP, their stories in the program, and why their passion drew them to it. Join the conversation by posting your story on social media with the hashtag #WomenOfWAP.
Beth Ryan – Weatherization Supervisor at New York State Homes and Community Renewal
As one of the longest-serving members of the Weatherization Assistance Program network, Beth Ryan has witnessed more changes to the program than almost anyone else. Beth started her weatherization journey as an energy advocate for a local Community Action Agency, and today she supervises weatherization for one-third of New York from the Buffalo office of the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal (NYSHCR). This year is WAP’s 45th anniversary, but Beth’s work stretches back even further, to programs and initiatives that served as precursors to the modern weatherization program.
Beth Ryan began work in human services in the early 70s with a Rockland County community action agency’s food pantry program. The Community Services Administration began funding an energy advocacy program, and Beth signed up as one of the first such advocates in the nation. The 1973 Oil Embargo and several dangerously cold New York winters put particular focus on the program where Beth now worked. She said, “I was in the right place at the right time to fall into that work.” Once she experienced the energy side of community action, Beth was hooked. Her CAA was one of the first in the county to use the funding to install solar power generation, doing so as early as 1977. She worked as an energy advocate for different CAAs before, in 1978, beginning work with her current employer NYSHCR.
Beth began her 43 year (and growing) career with the State of New York with their Division of Economic Opportunity where she was one of the first persons hired there as a field representative. Over the next four decades, Beth worked with the people of New York to improve their housing and energy efficiency. After two 500-year floods hit upstate New York within five years, NYSHCR and Beth turned their collective focus towards disaster recovery and resilient construction. It was after this that Beth “fell into her current role” where she oversees field operations, contract negotiations, and interagency collaborations. In this supervisory role, Beth continues her specialization in housing, though she touches many more issues, areas, and lives.
Beth may be the most experienced woman in weatherization in the United States, and however many changes she witnessed in the program, she saw just as many changes in how women could navigate the workforce. “You make a choice to work in an environment,” she said, “that, especially in the 70s and 80s, other women might not have chosen.” Beth saw an opportunity to fight for environmental justice despite being one of the few women in her office or network. Still one of relatively few woman weatherization administrators, Beth said she “made the workplace what she chose to make it.”
With so many years of experience, Beth has plenty of advice for states on how to grow their own weatherization workforce, including how to hire more women. “It is even more difficult now for women due to COVID-19’s impact,” she said, “it can be hard to get hired and to pay for childcare and everything else.” She said the industry is much more open to women now, partly due to competitive civil service tests replacing some subjective hiring practices. Beth said retaining workers has “never been as critical as it is now. We dodged a bullet under the last stimulus, and we can’t fail to retain a skilled and trained workforce again.” Despite the challenges, Beth remains invested in weatherization and is excited to see where the program will go next.