Undergraduate helping to power up community with solar nonprofit

Krissy Truesdale '19 started Solar for Our Superheroes as a high school student. Now at Clark, she's making it shine
January 31, 2017

Clark University sophomore Krissy Truesdale lives each day to make the world a cleaner, greener and friendlier place.

Solar for Our Superheroes (S4OS), the nonprofit she formed as a 16-year-old, is how she hopes to accomplish that.

Truesdale, a Traina Scholar who’s planning to major in global environmental studies, developed the initial idea for the nonprofit organization as a way of thanking local leaders such as veterans, teachers, firefighters and police officers for their service by providing free solar panels for their homes. Her goal was for S4OS to raise money to purchase the panels, help people save money each month and show the positive potential uses for renewable energy in Massachusetts.

“I want to study green business, and the interdisciplinary approach of Clark’s global environmental studies major will enable me to acquire the expertise I’ll need by helping me understand how climate change is affecting people, cultures and economics."

Krissy Truesdale

“There are community members who devote their lives to service,” she says. “I don’t think people recognize them enough for their sacrifices.”

Her original plan changed slightly during the organization’s annual board meeting, switching from a donation model to what Truesdale calls a “solar concierge,” where the group acts as a resource to connect families with educational resources and companies with which S4OS partners. The modification made S4OS a more service-based model focused on community education.

“Instead of purchasing all the systems for everyone, we could connect people who were interested in going solar with resources that are already in place,” she says.

This shift allows S4OS to “help a lot more people with a lot less money,” she says. Under the new model, the $15,000 Truesdale would have had to raise through competitions and fundraisers to purchase and install solar panels for one family can now help 100 families gain access to resources and partnerships.

In 2015, as a pilot project under the previous model, Solar for Our Superheroes selected its first set of “heroes,” the Rice family of Marblehead, Mass., and is still committed to helping them receive solar panels in the coming months from one of S4OS’s partner companies. For Laura and Tom Rice, a nurse and firefighter, the panels will provide significant savings from high monthly energy costs. The family was nominated for the program by Tom’s fire captain, and after interviewing other community members and discovering the family’s commitment to sustainability, Truesdale decided Tom and Laura were the perfect candidates for the installation.

“They’re so excited to be an example and show their community that using solar panels is a great thing to do,” Truesdale says. “They’re also grateful for those energy savings.”

A significant portion of the funding she has received for S4OS came from winning the $2,500 top prize in last year’s Ureka Big Idea Challenge at Clark. Truesdale described the energy in the room after winning as “one of the best moments of the whole experience.”

“Preparing for Ureka was profoundly educational, both professionally and personally,” she says. “As a first-year student, I hadn’t taken any business courses or had any official training in entrepreneurship. The time my mentor devoted to helping me with my plan and pitch quickly became my favorite 'class.'”

Truesdale was also one of 12 companies selected for StartUp Worcester 2016, an initiative to launch and provide support for the region’s young entrepreneurs. She considers this “a big honor” and feels obliged to “live up to StartUp Worcester’s expectations of investing in me.”

Her vision for Solar for Our Superheroes began when she formed the group in 2013. A year later, she gave a TEDxYouth presentation that expanded on the idea.

“I was so nervous. I had never done that before, so I ran it by the teachers and I ran it by my classmates” she says. “Eventually, I had practiced so many times that when it came to the day of the event I just knew it.”

The S4OS organization didn’t fully take off until Truesdale arrived at Clark a year later.

“I look at this whole thing in two phases,” she says. “The pre-Clark phase was more about putting the big pieces together. Now we’re ready to actually implement the mission.”

The University has been an invaluable resource for Truesdale while she grows S4OS. She’s taken courses that help her better understand the solar industry and the basic skills necessary to run a business.

“I want to study green business, and the interdisciplinary approach of Clark’s global environmental studies major will enable me to acquire the expertise I’ll need by helping me understand how climate change is affecting people, cultures and economics,” she says.

She’s also registered Solar for Our Superheroes as a nonprofit — filing paperwork to incorporate and get 501c3 (tax-exempt) status as well as partnering with a solar company and establishing a board of directors.

Truesdale’s team has grown from just her and the board to include a staff of eight interns whom she connected with through advertising at Clark’s Entrepreneurship Club Marketsquare event, in-class announcements and by word of mouth.

Solar For Our Superheroes staffTruesdale, center, with Solar for Our Superheroes staff members “I came to Clark because everyone is so passionate,” she says. “Everyone just feeds off each other’s passions and enthusiasm.”

Truesdale witnesses this attitude first hand through her interns, who care about her mission just as much as she does. One intern, William Pew ’16, has wanted to be involved with an organization like S4OS since his first year of high school.

“I assumed that I would start my own solar company, but when I met Krissy I realized I didn't have to,” he says. “What excites me about solar power is that anyone can produce their own electricity. S4OS can help you figure out the easiest, most cost-effective way to do it.”

Running a nonprofit while attending classes isn’t easy, but Truesdale has found a workable balance thanks to help from her mentors, particularly Amy Whitney, director of Clark’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, who describes the student as a “creative problem solver.”

“Krissy has identified opportunities, navigated uncertainty and demonstrated flexibility and persistence when faced with challenges,” Whitney says.

Truesdale, who credits Whitney for giving her the tools to make her business succeed, notes that “Clark is a great fit for me, and my professors are really supportive.”

In addition to Solar for Our Superheroes, Truesdale enjoys working with children in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which provides programming to “inspire young people from low-income communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures.”

Truesdale believes her hard work will pay off because she’s doing what she loves — bringing communities together and the electric grid one step closer to being 100 percent renewable.

“I love to share what I’ve learned with people,” she says.