From Service Member to Staffer
By Klesa Ausherman
After finishing college in Pittsburgh, PA, Lauren Rozman found a job and quickly moved south to the mountains of Asheville. While the job was a disappointment, Lauren fell in love with the Asheville community, but desperately desired purposeful work within it. While searching for local Peace Corps opportunities, she came across AmeriCorps, and a position with Asheville Habitat for Humanity in New Home Construction. With no previous construction experience, she applied and was accepted to start in August of 2017.
“When I told my family and friends I was starting an AmeriCorps position, their response was mostly “Ummmmm, why?” What they thought was taking a step backward for me, ended up being a huge leap forward.”
Why? is a question that AmeriCorps members get a lot. Why are you signing up for service work that doesn’t pay very much, but can be quite demanding? As Lauren puts it, “It was so much more than I thought it would be. I expected to help people, I expected to learn some new skills, and I got all that- but also a lot more. It’s so cool to work hand in hand with home owners. You really get to know them and their stories, as well as all the other people that work with Habitat, dedicating their time because they want to help and they see the value in improving the community and giving someone a hand up. I was looking to have a little more fulfillment in my life and I got that tenfold.”
And fulfillment isn’t the only thing Lauren got out of her time as an AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity. She expected to get out of an office and get her hands a little dirty, but had no idea how her confidence in her leadership skills would grow over the course of the year. She hardly knew how to swing a hammer the first day she walked onto the construction job site! Each week she would spend 1-2 days working alongside Habitat’s Home Construction supervisors learning how to do a project that she would later lead and teach a group of volunteers to do. In the same way a medical student attains mastery of their practice, she would learn it, do it, and then teach it.
“Leading volunteers on projects that you might have just learned how to do yesterday, whether they have no experience with tools or may have a ton more experience than you, forces you to become a leader.”
Lauren praises her supervisors for the support they gave throughout the process. She remembers asking them, afraid that she was going to mess something up, “Are you sure you trust me to do this?” Their belief in her was the encouragement she needed to step up confidently to a position of leadership.
When her year of AmeriCorps service ended, Lauren applied for a full-time position in the Habitat ReStore and was hired right away. Recently she was promoted from Associate to Supervisor. She says “Working for AmeriCorps demonstrated my commitment to helping others and making sacrifices, as well as my willingness to jump in and tackle anything in front of me.” It’s also this same willingness to get things done and the desire to help folks regardless of the circumstances, that make an ideal AmeriCorps candidate in the first place.
(Lauren now with a customer at the Asheville ReStore.)
For Lauren, the biggest benefit of working with AmeriCorps was gaining a healthy dose of reality. “I got to see how strong the community really is- how many people are ready and willing and excited to work. The news media doesn’t focus enough on the wonderful people who are willing to step up and get their hands dirty. And the homeowners are amazing! A lot of them are working two jobs, with kids and working around those schedules and then completing their sweat equity in their time off. They are always so excited about the opportunity to move into their own stable home.”
Looking forward, Lauren knows she won’t be going back to the private sector. She has dreams of becoming a business owner. “More than anything,” she says, “I need a deep connection to the work I’m doing. I was so excited this position opened up with Habitat, because it’s so refreshing to come to a place of work where people really do want to work and want to be here. That’s not the case in a lot of jobs.”
Lauren dreams of becoming a business owner one day, and says with confidence that “AmeriCorps has prepped me to not be afraid to put everything into the idea, and to be a strong and confident leader.”
AmeriCorps is Americans of all ages and backgrounds, dedicating their time and skills to GET THINGS DONE for America! Members strengthen communities and develop leadership skills through direct, team-based service with organizations like Asheville Area Habitat. Though hiring is currently on hold due to Covid-19, we will have 7 positions open for the upcoming service year. Learn more and express interest here.
Also, here about the experiences of several Asheville Habitat AmeriCorps members in the video below!