Readers of The Working Waterfront who live in Knox and Waldo counties probably know the story of the WindowDressers organization. It’s a story that illustrates something of the state’s problems, but also something of a solution, and so bears repeating—with apologies to those who have heard it before.

The story begins with a couple of retired men, Richard Cadwgan and Frank Mundo, living in the Rockland area and attending the city’s First Universalist Church. As a church community outreach project serving those who struggle to pay their winter heating bills, the men began building window inserts.

The inserts are simple wood frames that support clear plastic on both sides, the plastic attached with double-sided tape. The frames are edged with a thin foam gasket material that allows the inserts to fit snugly but easily in the interior of windows, even those older ones that may not be quite square.

Others—mostly men—were drawn to volunteer for the endeavor, and production and demand grew. At the risk of gender stereotyping, the appeal for volunteers was understandable; men like to build things with other men, and knowing they were helping save other people’s money was a bonus. Many of the volunteers had sat behind desks all their working days, so doing something with their hands probably was refreshingly different.

WindowDressers charges about $20 per window, but when people struggle to pay, the organization accepts a $10 donation and provides inserts at no cost. The organization incorporated in 2012, but remains an all-volunteer affair, “dedicated to reducing consumption of fossil fuels by Maine residents by cutting heat loss through windows,” according to its mission statement. WindowDressers now supplies churches and organizations like United Way with do-it-yourself kits to multiply the impact.

The group notes that 30 percent of building heat escapes through windows, so improving the efficiency saves homeowners and renters money—winter after winter—and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. This year, WindowDressers will have made 1,000 inserts in its Rockland base and another 2,000 at locations from Searsport to Brunswick.

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The Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront, has hosted many workshops in the state’s 15 year-round, unbridged island communities at which participants build window inserts, helping ease the exceptionally high burden of energy costs offshore.

Policy makers often fret—justifiably—about Maine’s older population; recent U.S. Census data showed Maine’s 43.5 median age as the highest in the nation (the national average median age is 37.4). This “oldest state” status comes in part because our younger adults leave for brighter job prospects elsewhere, but it also is impacted by our appeal to retirees.

So, the problems and the solutions: an aging population is a problem because people in their 60s and 70s don’t start businesses, don’t serve as a skilled labor pool and don’t start families to boost schools and community vitality. But when they volunteer for such endeavors as building window inserts, that retired population cohort is suddenly an asset.

The collective intelligence, education, experience and wisdom of our retirees is an astoundingly valuable resource. Those retirees choosing to live in Maine (even if many head south in the winter) have built successful businesses, worked in public sector and government jobs, served in the military and traveled the world, seeing what works elsewhere.

Cadwgan was an environmental engineer; Mundo spent 35 years in the computer industry. These sorts of retirees are, typically, not content with sitting in a rocking chair on the porch.

Existing organizations such as RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) and SCORE (formerly Service Corps of Retired Executives) are two that coordinate volunteer effort, but there are more.

Reducing Maine’s heavy and costly dependence on fossil fuel is a problem for which two retirees launched a simple yet effective strategy. What’s next on the list? Let’s find a way to better network these talented people in our communities.