Finding Purpose and Passion through Service

By Klesa Ausherman

Finding your very own dream team is, well, what dreams are made of! But that’s exactly what happened when Emily Stevens signed up for a year of service with Asheville Habitat.  As a YAV (Young Adult Volunteer) working closely with the Construction Services Volunteer Manager, Emily frequently found herself on Habitat construction job sites. Alongside two other “Year of Service” AmeriCorps members, and with no former construction experience, Emily began to learn about the work that happens on Habitat job sites. Watching AmeriCorps members learn construction skills, and then lead groups of volunteers doing the very projects they had just learned how to do, began to stir up a desire in Emily to learn those skills as well. She remembers, “As I grew closer with Christina and Lawrence and got to see what their work entailed, my interest in learning those skills for myself grew. I was already attuned to a year of service with the YAV program, so doing a second volunteer year wasn’t a hard sell. Ultimately I realized that I had grown to love the Construction team and saw the heart they put into their work to make affordable home building and repair a reality for people. That was a team I wanted to be a part of.”

Emily Stevens First Day On Site As Construction AmeriCorps

Emily Stevens on her first day on site as an AmeriCorps Service Member. 8.24.16

Emily signed up for her second year of service through Asheville Habitat’s AmeriCorps program, and was officially part of the Habitat construction team.  Without any official building or construction experience, Emily remembers being a little nervous during her first days on the job site. “I didn’t want to be a hindrance to anyone on site. I wished that I just automatically knew every step to building a house so I could plug volunteers into each task according to their skill level as easy as my coworkers made it look and not have to constantly ask them. But then the more I did myself, especially as a newbie, the easier it was to explain to someone else who didn’t know what they were doing since I had just been in that position. And then when they understood it, I was so satisfied.”

As with many recent college graduates who choose to serve with AmeriCorps, Emily was searching for what was next for her. Although she wasn’t sure specifically what to expect from her first AmeriCorps year, she began to discover aspects of her work on the construction site that were not just ok, but genuinely rewarding. “My confidence speaking in front of groups, commanding attention, and orchestrating the flow of daily projects grew throughout the year and that sort of leadership was new and exciting. I also really liked the physical component of my job and learned a whole new appreciation for manual labor. The world of building was brand new to me so my learning curve was quite steep. But I knew I wanted to acquire a set of “hands-on” skills that could be useful throughout my life.”

When her service year with AmeriCorps came to a close, she began to reflect on her experience, and instead of wanting to move on for the next thing, she found herself wanting more time with the work she was already doing. “I was beginning to see that I was just skimming the surface as far as the construction projects I had learned and I wanted to get my hands dirty again.”

Emily 9.14.18

Emily 9.14.18

So she signed up for a second year! “I realized I was really happy with everything I had been doing. All around me I was talking with friends who were considering what their next “move” was, whether it was grad school, or the first job out of grad school, or they still didn’t know. Everyone was thinking about something different than what they were already doing. But when I reflected on my time at Habitat, I realized that I didn’t hate going to work every day, in fact it was the opposite- I was excited to see what was next. I was in a whole new learning environment that kept me on my toes. Every day looked different, so there was never the worry of boredom. This was contrary to everything I was hearing about ‘work’. I decided to do a second year of AmeriCorps service to further my home building education with the hopes of maybe a position opening up at the organization somewhere down the road.”

And it just so happened- her luck panned out. As her second service year with AmeriCorps came to a close, Asheville Habitat decided to hire a fourth Construction Supervisor. It was the next step she was waiting for. Emily entered into a supervisor apprentice position, focusing on the finishing side of home construction while also building her knowledge and skill at framing, until she was able to start supervising her own Habitat house from the ground up. Now, after almost 2 years as a full-time Construction Supervisor, Emily will break ground on her first independently supervised house, the Women Build House, this month! “The transition has been very smooth throughout my 5 years at the organization, from administrative-based work my first “Year of Service”- developing relationships with the core volunteers and learning the ins and outs of affordable housing, to two years as an AmeriCorps Crew Leader on the job site increasing my repertoire of projects I can lead, to now putting it ALL together and starting my own house!”

After five years with Asheville Habitat – 3 years of service and 2 years of site supervision – Emily is quick to recommend the AmeriCorps program. “If you have any interest in an AmeriCorps position, even just an inkling to learn what the job might entail, diving in for a full year is the best way to know if it could turn into a desirable career for you.”

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Emily with a group of volunteers

And of course, she doesn’t hesitate to recommend Asheville Habitat’s AmeriCorps program: “As long as you’re eager to learn, being an AmeriCorps member with Asheville Habitat is a great way to learn about the “Habitat way” while really making an impact on our community. There is so much to learn about the affordable housing crisis and how Habitat plays a huge role in giving people a hand-up towards a stable future. You get to hear so many stories working with future homeowners and volunteers, it becomes easy to see how much of a family we all are.”

From the volunteers, to the staff, to the future homeowners- through her years of service with AmeriCorps, Emily found the work she loves and a dream team to build with.

“Construction work is definitely a skill, but more than anything it just takes stepping back and thinking about that tool or task to see how you could go about constructing it. Seeing the confidence build in someone throughout the course of the day or week is one of the most rewarding skills that still makes my day.”

A Volunteer’s Memorial

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By Klesa Ausherman

If you’ve visited the Asheville ReStore lately, you may have noticed two handsome, custom built flower boxes that recently came to live at the ReStore. Their outward appearance may suggest nothing more than a tasteful new addition to the Asheville Habitat property- they are notably well built, with custom woodwork, attractive proportions, and overflowing with botanical potential. However, their real value lies not in their timeless appearance, but in what and who they represent to the Asheville Habitat family.

Being a core Asheville Habitat volunteer in many ways resembles being part of a large extended family. Hundreds of volunteers showing up to serve every week for years, even decades, in some ways mirrors the consistency of certain family members in our lives. Like blood in a family, the commonality of purpose brings Habitat family members together. Inevitably, this consistency of showing up together for a common purpose forges friendships and builds relationships that are rich and meaningful. For staff and volunteers alike, the benefits of joining the Habitat family are deep and wide. And naturally, when it comes time to say goodbye, it’s never easy.

Mike Burke

Mike Burke

Mike Burke was the picture of familial consistency in the almost eight years he volunteered with the Asheville ReStore. He brought fun, laughter, and commitment to his Wednesday shifts in the bookstore- and he never showed up without a new joke for shoppers and staff.  With an outgoing, comedic charm, it may have come as a surprise to some that he was a master history teacher for the majority of his professional life. After many years of teaching, he enjoyed retirement with his wife, Asheville native Marthann Coleman, travelling the world and leading groups of students on international adventures. After losing his wife in 2009, he joined Asheville Habitat’s team of volunteers in a new season of volunteer service and philanthropy. It was during this season that Mike commissioned a local craftswoman to custom build two large wooden flower boxes, reminiscent of the patio gardens his wife would plant and tend each year. And although Mike grieved deeply at the loss of his bride, his new volunteer commitments opened doors for new friendships to bloom.

The Asheville ReStore bookstore was among several nonprofit recipients of his time, and they were the perfect pair. The bookstore benefited from his organization and detailed attention, and Mike delighted in meeting  customers and developing friendships with staff and fellow volunteers. He made fast friends with a few gentlemen on the ReStore Appliance Repair team, and their stand up coffee break in the bookstore became a weekly ritual. A well-read, enthusiastic lover of music, Mike was at home in the bookstore among new friends and even some family, too.

Kit Rains, Mike’s daughter and Development Director at Asheville Habitat, remembers looking forward to her break on Wednesdays to go visit her dad in the bookstore. It was a relationship dear to her heart, one which she says, distilled down to her dad’s greatest qualities- “He was one of the finest examples of his generation”, she says. “He was fair-minded, he was truly charitable, he was very practical, and he loved his family.”

Perhaps at the heart of each volunteer’s choice to serve, is a desire for equality. Kit’s description of her father substantiates this. “My dad was one of the most fair-minded people I’ve ever known; he always listened to both sides of an issue. He felt that Habitat treated people with respect in recognizing the need for a stable, affordable home, but also requiring people to get down to work and pay for it. There was a real practical fairness to him that I think was characteristic of his generation and really resonated with Habitat’s program.” Among the Asheville ReStore staff, Mike’s sense of humor, engaging personality, and his willingness to help out wherever he was needed still stand out as memorable qualities.

When it came time to say goodbye to Mike last August after a 6-month battle with bladder cancer, he made sure to do things his way. Always practical, Mike organized his own memorial service to be held at the weekly Asheville Beer and Hymn night, an event he routinely attended with his Habitat friends. All Habitat staff and volunteers were invited to come have a final beer on him, celebrate his life, and toast him into what comes next.

Mike was a beloved member of the Asheville Habitat family. His beautiful flower boxes, now surrounded by rose bushes between the ReStore and the administrative offices, are a constant reminder of how deep and wide this family really is. The boxes remind us of Mike- his joy, his humor, his incredible character. They remind us of the hundreds of volunteers who show up weekly to serve. And they remind us of the entirety of the volunteer family who has served with us over the past three decades, who have made Habitat’s mission of stable, affordable housing for everyone who needs it, an ever growing reality in our Buncombe County community.

My AmeriCorps Story

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By Sydney Monshaw 

Ryan (fellow AmeriCorps member) and I and two volunteers working on a lead paint remediation project in Enka in early Spring 2018. This was the first time we had needed the yellow suits and we kept joking around that we felt like ghostbusters!

Nearly three years ago I moved to the mountains of North Carolina, without knowing a single other person, to take a job in construction with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. I did a year of service with AmeriCorps as a member of the Home Repair team, decided to stick around for a second year of service, was hired as a Home Repair site supervisor, and finally made my way to the Fund Development team. A winding path full of challenge, growth, mud, sweat, spreadsheets, and deep love for this Asheville community I now get to call home.

I began my first service term in August of 2017. I had just graduated from NYU and had no idea what I was going to do with my life or how to put my desire to serve into action. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, use my youth to put in the hard work often necessary to make change, and have an experience unlike anything I’d had while living in New York City. Through both my service and my employment with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, a passion for affordable housing has been sparked in me. My work has given me the opportunity to grow in empathy and compassion and to seek solutions so that truly everyone has a place to call home.

Ryan and I working on Sophie Dixon’s house in Shiloh in the fall of 2017, my first AmeriCorps year. We had only been on the job a few weeks but I was given a leadership role on this house because our project manager was leading a volunteer team in Guatemala and Ryan was in the hospital.

This was late spring/early summer 2018 and Ryan and I were getting to the end of our service term. We were power washing a home in Arden for a sweet aging lady and that was the day we knew the power washer was falling apart, we both got SOAKED.

We were working on a project all the way out in Barnardsville in the fall of 2018 for a very cool family. We built them a retaining wall (visible behind us) and it was HARD work. We moved tons and tons of concrete block, stone and 6×6 posts. The homeowner helped us well past his sweat equity requirement with all of this heavy lifting and one morning when it got to be a little chilly, he emerged in his AmeriCorps sweatshirt. It turned out that he had served as an AmeriCorps too! He was so proud of his service and so proud to work alongside us. It brought together all of the pieces of Habitat that I love: community, relationships, hard work, and stories.

My first year of AmeriCorps was what you might expect from a 23-year-old with limited construction experience: driving a huge van around Buncombe County, fixing everything from leaking sinks to broken floor systems, and building 80-foot ramps and cinder block retaining walls. I learned a heck of a lot that year, and I made a lot of mistakes. Not only did I learn how to use a circular saw, and what dimensions are appropriate for a ramp, I also learned to manage volunteers, how to plan projects, and that I am a lot stronger (physically) than I thought I was! We moved a lot of heavy things! In all of that learning I also purchased the wrong materials plenty of times, sawed pieces of lumber that were meant to remain uncut, and drilled so many screws that should have been nails. All of my missteps were met with kindness and understanding from my supervisor. That whole first year he just kept saying “it’s only wood and nails” and he would patiently walk me through how to do it correctly. It was a safe space to try and fail and blunder and succeed, a place for my confidence to grow.

When I applied to serve another year on the Home Repair team, I had dreams of increasing my leadership in order to begin to make an actual difference (now that I was wise and knew the difference between a drill and an impact driver). I had no idea I would be given the opportunity of

I took this shot during the last week of our fiscal year in summer 2019. We were making a big push to finish a Veteran Repair Corps job and we hit every possible hurdle from flaky volunteers, to bad weather, to extraordinary heat, and material delays. We called on all staff to give us a hand and we got a lot of help! It was really cool to get to work alongside our ED Andy Barnett for the day. As an AmeriCorps (who knew I was going to be staff at that point) it was neat to get some time to know him and his views about Habitat. Our ED is accessible and can put in a hard day’s work on site when we truly need everybody to roll up their sleeves! He also took us out for tacos that day and it was a real treat to share a meal with our team!

a lifetime to build my management skills, advocate for our aging population, and help to highlight some previously unknown needs that our affiliate could address. That year I was asked to work on a pilot program that would serve clients over age 60 with no-cost repairs. We had a strict and small budget, a limited scope for the types of repairs we could provide, and lots of reporting that had to happen for every client served. I was able to serve 20 clients and their families over the course of that year and was witness to countless stories of resilience and strength. Not only was I able to repair mobile home floors and build access ramps so that home would be a safe place for these families, I was also able to build relationships that were meaningful. For some of my clients, the Home Repair team were the only people they had talked to in some time and they were grateful for some company as well as new floors. I worked harder than I had ever worked before to make a difference for those families, and to take what I had learned to advocate for folks like them across the county.

I knew that by the end of my second year of service I could not say goodbye to our affiliate, the coworkers who had become like family, and the mission that made me excited to go to work every day. I was fortunate enough to have a combination of great timing and supportive leadership on my side to make my transition to full-time staff seamless. I was hired as the Home Repair Supervisor for our Aging in Place projects to continue the work I had been doing as an AmeriCorps member, with plans in place to transition away from direct service work and into the Fund Development team in the spring. I am filled with gratitude every day for the work that I get to do. I believe in this mission, I believe in the incredible staff I am lucky enough to work with and learn from, and I believe that we can make a change in affordable housing in Asheville – together. AmeriCorps changed my life and I am so glad I landed at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.

My heart in a photo. Our team was so close after spending a really tough year together. We accomplished an incredible amount, bolstered a pilot program in its second year, and made a huge amount of change for so many families. I consider these folks to be my second family – we saw each other every single day, knew each other so well, and navigated challenges and successes as a team. I am grateful all the time that AmeriCorps gave me these strong, kind, thoughtful hearts to work with.

2019.2020 Team

The fall 2019-spring 2020 construction staff looking cute for the holidays out at the Curry Court jobsite. The construction staff is like a family and any one of these people I can count on as my coworker and friend. They are a special group with incredible talent and passion for this work. I learned so much from all of them during my time as an AmeriCorps!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

p.s. One of the most fun things about AmeriCorps is Build-a-Thon. Every AmeriCorps member from every Habitat affiliate in the US comes together to build for a week. Imagine summer camp meets construction, meets a crash course in social justice and advocacy. It is an incredible feeling to stand in a sea of hardhats, surrounded by hundreds of people who have committed, just like you have, to serve their community in a tangible way. It is humbling and empowering and I wish everyone could have such an experience.

Taken at Build-a- Thon 2019 in Wake County, NC. The dream team of AmeriCorps! It was so much fun to go to Build-a-Thon together. We got to spend extra time with each other, we made friends with folks serving all over the country, and we got some sweet tan lines. This is a hardworking and dedicated group right here, I feel lucky to have worked with each of them! L to R: Kaitlyn, Nora, me, Mackenzie and Billy.

 

Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with Asheville Habitat? Click here to see the opportunities.

Still Working Towards Racial Equity

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Asheville Habitat works every day to close the racial homeownership gap and expand access to stable and healthy homes. For 37 years, Asheville Habitat has built dozens of thriving diverse neighborhoods defying the lies behind residential segregation. Successful Habitat mortgages disprove the myths that justify “redlining” and predatory lending. Most important, we have empowered families to build a shelter against other forms of disparity.

A Safe Return

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At the Asheville ReStores, the safety and health of our customers and team is number one priority. Read about the ways we are working to safely get everyone back to their treasure hunt and back to the mission of building affordable housing in Buncombe County!

When Quarantine Comes, Things Go

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When asked if they had fun reminiscing as they went through all their things, Charlie laughed and suggested I halt my inquiry unless I wanted Tricia back in the garage removing things from the donation pile! She confirmed they had lots of fun traveling down memory lane, and that some items were easier to let go than others.

A most gratifying project

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A reflection by Jeannie Goldenberg, an AmeriCorps member who works on the Home Repair team. 

“Recently we had a huge home repair project that involved fixing about 60% of our client’s home. He has cerebral palsy and had been living independently for about ten years. He unfortunately was not able to keep up with the house and in turn the framing had sunk in and it was not healthy for him to live there anymore. By working on the 60% of his house, we were able to get him a workable area that he could live in again. It was one of the toughest projects to date, but it was also the most gratifying.

His kitchen before the remodel was in disarray, and nothing was able to be used to making a nutritious meal. We were able to install new cabinets, lighting, and a stove, with a safe and level floor. He had been sleeping in a chair in his living room, not utilizing either one of the two bedrooms that were in the house. We were able to take the back bedroom and stabilize the flooring so that it would no longer be falling; we made it completely level so that it was safe for him to walk. We completely remodeled his bathroom, with a new washer, dryer, shower and vanity. The washer and dryer were set up correctly, therefore not as much of a fire risk as the ones before. The shower was converted into a walk-in shower with handrails, so that he has less probability of falling when getting in. By getting all of these individual parts of his house fixed, we have given him the ability to continue to live his life in the home that has been passed down through his family.

Upon completion, he and his mother came to see what the finished product looked like. Co-workers Chris and Pete and I took the tour with them, and we were able to see their reaction to a completely different looking house. They had so much gratitude for us and were amazed at how much we were able to get done in a month. At the end of the tour we all held hands and had a moment of peace and togetherness. I could tell that he and his mother were so grateful that he was going to be able to continue to live in the home that he spent most of his adult life. This is a project that I really felt like we were going to have a lasting impact on their family, and ultimately create a better life for him.”

To learn more about the client (Victor) and see photos of his renovated home, click here.

Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with us starting in August 2020? Click here to see the open positions with Asheville Habitat and apply.

Homes, Communities, Hope & YOU

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For low-income families, stay at home orders exacerbate existing struggles such as exposure to toxins like mold and mildew, overcrowded conditions, and unsafe neighborhoods. While this pandemic affects everyone, the effects on our low-income neighbors is most acute.

Updates from Our Business Partners

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Asheville Habitat for Humanity is successful in part because our local business community steps up to be part of the solution to the affordable housing problem. We want to support the businesses who support us, so we’re sharing some of the ways they are continuing to operate in these challenging times. Please consider patronizing them!  

A Safe and Dignified Living Space

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By Maddy Alewine, Communications Specialist

A home is more than a roof and four walls. Homeownership is the primary way Americans accumulate wealth. This is true for Victor, a retired forklift driver and Asheville High graduate, who inherited the Oakley home from his great aunt in 2018. Victor’s grandfather built this home with his own two hands in 1944.

AmeriCorps member Lucas works on the trim in the back bedroom.

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AmeriCorps member Cecily and Home Repair Supervisor Pete install new kitchen cabinets.

Home can be a safe and healthy haven, but for Victor, he found himself living in an old home with a growing laundry list of repairs including heavily deteriorating floors and walls with moisture-ridden wood, and faulty plumbing. Victor’s cerebral palsy means he is unable to repair and upkeep with the growing number of problems in his home, even with family regularly checking in and assisting him.

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AmeriCorps Jeannie installs vinyl flooring in the kitchen.

Asheville Habitat’s Home Repair team demolished the kitchen, back bedroom, and bathroom to repair the floor framing and install vapor barriers and insulation. New subflooring and vinyl flooring were installed and plumbing was fixed in the bathroom and kitchen. While new and sturdy floors gave the three rooms a whole new feel, new kitchen appliances and fresh paint and trim really made the place shine. Victor and his family expressed how much they love the work that was done. Victor can now live safer and with dignity in his family’s home.

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The finished kitchen

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New kitchen appliances

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completed bathroom

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Completed back bedroom

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New walk-in shower