This CT environmental advocate won’t let serious illness stop her from helping others
On a sunny day last month, Leticia Colon de Mejias relaxed on the deck of a boat off Puerto Rico with her arm attached to an IV drip.
“This dying things sucks,” she said by phone from the boat. “They tell me I’m dying but I’m not really interested in that. Dying is really boring; you have to sit still. I’m interested in living.”
Colon de Mejias has an autoimmune disorder. When doctors told her she was too sick to leave the hospital, she didn’t listen.
She had promised her daughter, Nya, that she would take her to Puerto Rico for her 15th birthday.
“I said, ‘Hey, will this IV bag go traveling?’ And they said ‘Yes, for $5,000.’”
“Let’s do it,” she said.
Soon, she was on a friend’s boat in a Puerto Rican harbor with her family and a big messenger bag packed with her IV medication.
Not listening and instead doing what she thinks is right is a central theme in Colon de Mejias’s journey to becoming an author, energy efficiency expert, entrepreneur, CEO and an advocate for Connecticut utility customers, particularly those of color and with low to moderate incomes.
As she puts it, she’s a “a warrior for the people and the planet.”
It’s part of a lesson she learned at 10 when her Puerto Rican-born father taught her to face her fear and walk on fire.
“We do it because we believe it burns off the impurities and it helps remind us that we are strong,” she said. “And that nobody can stop us. If we want something, we just go get it.”
So, she says, when people told her years ago that she couldn’t start her Energy Efficiency Solutions company – “you’re a girl and know nothing about it” – she didn’t listen. It opened in 2010 and retrofits homes and apartments, providing weather stripping and insulation to help drive down energy costs.
When they said she would never get the money to start a job training program, she did it. It opened three years ago and is called Efficiency for All’s M=Power, a program that teaches participants the skills needed to do energy efficient work.
And when they said she couldn’t have a nonprofit because she didn’t have a college degree?
“I did it.”
Green Eco-Warriors teaches children and families about sustainability, while Efficiency For All is a group of energy efficiency contractors and environmental advocates.
Where others see obstacles, she sees a path.
Tenacious, tireless advocate
In addition to an autoimmune disorder, Colon de Mejias has had four kinds of cancer, starting at the age of 10.
The illnesses have lent a sense of urgency to her work, a larger-than-life intensity and determination that drives success.
“I never know when I’m going to be gone,” she said. “I worry so much that I won’t do the things that I was meant to do or that I will leave something undone and that no one will pick up and then I feel so bad.”
Colleagues and advocates say she's had a significant impact in the field of energy conservation and her advocacy for low- and moderate-income residents.
“There’s almost no one in Connecticut who hasn’t been in some way impacted by Leticia’s work, whether they know it or not,” said Samantha Dynowski, state director of the Sierra Club Connecticut Chapter. “If you’ve ever had an energy efficiency audit, you’ve indirectly experienced the work of Leticia.”
Colon de Mejias is the advocate that “people listen to the most,” said Melissa Kops, project manager architect for the city of New Haven and a lecturer at Yale.
“She makes her voice heard,” Kops said. “She’s driven and she’s passionate and I think Connecticut is definitely the beneficiary.”
Colon de Mejias recognized the barriers that many low-income families face in attempting to reap the benefit of the state’s Energy Efficiency Fund.
“She’s the one that brought that to the attention of more traditional environmental groups,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. “She made a strong case that the folks living in this housing pay through electric bills into these funds and then don’t have access to it. These funds were often going predominantly to white people in the suburbs. And the folks that could not get access were in many ways the folks who needed that the most.”
Swan said that with the help of the Sierra Club and CCAG and other groups, Colon de Mejias worked to pass legislation that led to the launch of a $12 million program that provides the needed repairs to homes so that weatherization work can proceed.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has said it aims to fund repairs in more than 600 homes by the end of 2025.
Some say that Colon de Mejias’ advocacy has been so intense that it could be irritating.
Swan said Colon de Mejias “is somebody who understands that to make omelets you have to break some eggs. … She fights hard. Tenacious is the word.”
Colon de Mejias said she’s “good with being a warrior.”
“I don’t care if they like me, but I’m going to do the right thing every time whether they agree or not,” she said.
A movie changed her life
Born in Hartford, Colon de Mejias, 47, graduated from East Windsor High, but moved around a bit while growing up.
She worked for Hartford HeathCare in research, government and community relations. Then, in 2008 she saw a movie that changed her life. It was called “Kilowatt Ours,” a film by Jeff Barrie, on the effect of personal choices on energy use.
She hadn’t thought about how her personal choices affected the environment and the health and safety of society. The movie changed that.
“I was being very successful, but what good is money? If you’re dead you can’t drink water, you can’t eat food, you can’t breathe the air,” she said. “All that money is useless.”
She quit her job and “started changing the world.”
As the mother of seven children, she saw the need to educate children and families about energy and started a campaign to get people to “Switch It Off,” whether their televisions, computers or phones and replace “viewing with doing.”
For her own children, that meant replacing TV with books and science activities. Her Green Eco-Warriors nonprofit aims to help educate children and communities about the environment.
Colon de Mejias has written books and comic books on environmental topics for kids such as “Pesky Plastic,” a book about the danger that sea animals face when they ingest plastics in the ocean.
She has handed out more than 40,000 of her books and green energy comic books to schools in Connecticut and beyond.
She’s testified before Congress about boosting clean energy efforts.
She said she founded Energy Efficiency Solutions in part to help lessen the impacts of climate change on underserved and underrepresented communities.
“I wanted to ensure communities of color and the communities that I lived in and worked with had the support to directly draw down their energy usage, energy costs, energy related pollution and carbon emission,” she said.
While facing serious health issues, Colon de Mejias shows no signs of slowing her frenetic pace.
She’s been working to set up a community center in Windsor that will offer classes, massage and services like Reiki, a healing technique.
One day last month, she was directing workers setting up the center while talking to a reporter on the phone.
“You can ask your questions,” she said, while also asking a worker about plans for paint colors. “I always multitask; go ahead – ask!”
A version of this story was originally published in the Windsor Journal.