Finding Purpose and Passion through Service

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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.”

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.

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 Jennie 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.

Celebrating our volunteers!

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Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is recognizing milestones and thanking volunteers during Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 20-25). Though this year amidst Covid-19, it means ZOOM coffee breaks, mailed rather than hand-delivered cards, and gifts presented at a later date.

AmeriCorps Stories: Lauren Rozman

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“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.”

What you CAN do right now

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Like everyone, we are navigating unchartered territory. And like so many non-profits, our families’ needs can’t wait and in most cases are exacerbated by Covid-19. We’re an organization that unites people every day, side by side. In our ReStores, on our jobsites, with celebratory events, and in our community conference room. So, how we engage with you is going to look different for awhile, but we can still be united in spirit and in individual action that has collective impact.

Please read below for ways you can support us and the community during this unprecedented time. Thank you and be well.

DONATE
Affordable housing can’t wait. We are facing a significant loss of income that compromises our ability to build and repair affordable homes. Our ReStores are shuttered, all events are cancelled, and day-to-day fundraising is strained. If you have a safe, decent home, you are likely finding comfort and reassurance in it right now, but worried for those who don’t have a place to retreat. Please make a gift so we can ensure more of our neighbors have that same sense of stability and comfort.

ADVOCATE
With 1 in 6 households paying more than half their paycheck on rent, families already have to make sacrifices- health care, education, transportation, etc. Now with COVID-19 bringing many facets of everyone’s lives to a grinding halt, low-income families are the hardest hit. In the days, weeks and months ahead, our collective advocacy will play an important role in ensuring necessary support for our homeowners and community residents financially impacted by the pandemic and Habitat’s work. It is critical that Congress hear from Habitat and our communities about the importance of housing stability during this health crisis. Please take action now by clicking the link below. Thank you!

VOLUNTEER

  • Though we have cancelled all volunteers until further notice, some organizations can still use volunteers in select capacities- MANNA, Homeward Bound, BeLoved to name a few. If you are healthy, fall into the low-risk category, and our comfortable doing so, please consider exploring opportunities listed with HandsOn.

CLEAN NOW, DONATE LATER
Our normally bustling ReStores are shuttered. As you spring clean, please remember the ReStore. Box up your items now for donation drop-off or pick-up later. We hope our next challenge will be more donations of gently used items than we could ever anticipate! Thank you in advance.

STAY IN TOUCH
You can continue to see photos, watch videos, read blog posts and connect with us on social media, read e-newsletters and Advocacy alerts, and visit our website and blog. We look forward to the day that we can all come together in community in person. Until then, stay connected with us virtually and be well.

And it goes without saying, take care of yourself, your family, your neighbors and your friends. We’re all in this together!

 

Make a Donation    

AmeriCorps Reflection: Importance of Listening

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A reflection by AmeriCorps VISTA member Krysta Osweiler, who works in Homeowner Services.

“The more I’ve had the opportunity to speak with different members of the community (over 200 individuals in just one quarter!), the more I’ve seen the ways that the entire issue of affordable housing affects far more people than I ever thought it would. I came into my VISTA role knowing that there was a huge need, but as I’ve spent time talking with different community members, and really listening to their stories, I’ve seen many of the ways that housing can, and often does, divide people. Almost into the “haves” and “have not’s”.  For some, renting is a way of life. For others, it’s all they can afford. For even more, they haven’t once considered that there may be another option.

Each of my grandparents owned their homes, and my parents have owned a home since I was baby. I have never once considered that homeownership might be out of reach for me. But that’s not how it is for everyone, and depending on where you live, monthly mortgage payments could cost far more than rent would. Up until now, I’ve really seen the question of homeownership as being purely a matter of finances, without fully appreciating that there can often be a whole lot more at play in the decision than just money.

One of my most meaningful experiences was completely unexpected. I reached out to our local community college, wondering how I could best connect with their ESL students. Imagine my surprise when the response was an invitation to speak with their English conversation class! There were 9 class members on the day of my visit, each with varying levels of English proficiency. The facilitator had prepared a list of questions to discuss, specifically focused on housing, and it was pretty eye-opening to hear their responses. Some were interested in a house, but only after having children, once they’d really “need” the extra space. Others lived with extended family, and desperately wanted to be in a place of their own; but their cultures were the kind where multiple generations lived together, and not having other family members in the home would never be an option for them. One came from a city where literally no one could afford to buy a home of their own, so until this conversation, it had never once crossed his mind that people might do that.

Housing and “home” is something we all see very differently, depending on where we came from and what our point of reference is. I knew that if you always rented, and your parents always rented, and your grandparents always rented, that you probably wouldn’t recognize homeownership as an option for you. But I didn’t fully appreciate the ways that your culture could play into that, or how it can even go so far as to dictate your housing choices for you. Many of these international students had always lived with extended family, and really wanted to enjoy their apartments here, and the space to themselves. One even said that as long as they were in a small apartment, no one else would come live with them, but if they had a house, other family members would definitely be living there, too. That completely took away any motivation for them to purchase a house down the road. When my husband and I first bought a house, that wasn’t even part of what we considered. We wanted to have space for our family members to be able to visit. But for these students, having that space would mean something completely different. It wouldn’t have been space for visitors, it would have been space for long-term guests that wouldn’t necessarily leave.

These conversations have been an important part of sharing information about Habitat with our community. They’ve also been important as a way to educate people on both sides of the table. Not only did these students need to hear that homeownership is a possibility, I needed to hear what shaped their thoughts on the process. We each have a unique perspective, and every single one of those perspectives is valid. Until we really listen to the people on the “other” side of the table, we won’t be able to recognize how different our thoughts might be. Much of my time has been spent educating the community at-large about Habitat and the services we provide. In doing so, I’ve learned from community members themselves, and for that, I am grateful.”

Exactly where I want to be

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A reflection by Chris Nolan, an AmeriCorps member who works on the Home Repair team.

“Here at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, the first half of my year of service has felt like coming home to a place I’ve never been. In my first job out of college, I worked on a farm whose customer base was primarily people of considerable privilege, I loved the work I was doing and the people I worked with, but felt that overall what I was doing was lacking in impact and mission. Since leaving my home state I have been looking for that community and satisfaction from a hard day’s work that I felt on the farm, and after a few years of searching ended up where I am now.

Here on the Home Repair team, the work we do every day has a visible, tangible, and sometimes emotional impact on some of the most underserved and unseen members of our community. In this role I have begun to learn exactly the sort of skills I need, from framing to finishing and everything along the way. I am starting to see a house as not just a big box but a structure with layers, shedding water, bearing weight. And I have gotten to hear stories and perspectives from homeowners whose existence I would otherwise be entirely ignorant of.

In Home Repair our experiences with homeowners can range wildly. Take for instance: after completing one project, I learned that one of the home residents had died the following weekend. At another project, the conditions in which the homeowner was living before our repair had me saddened and upset through dinnertime. At another, the homeowner baked us fresh cookies, played Vivaldi while we worked, and every day offered us oranges, local apples, or baked sweet potato wedges while telling us stories from her life which spanned from coast to coast, with multiple careers and degrees along the way; at yet another, the elderly homeowner was more than eager to pick up a shovel and help us move hundreds of pounds of gravel. What we see here is real, what we learn is real, and what we do is real. And it is exactly where I want to be and what I want to be doing. So to Habitat and AmeriCorps, I say thank you for the chance to be right here.”

Want to hear from other AmeriCorps members who have worked with us in the past? Watch this video.

Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with us starting in August 2020? We will be seeking 7 members: 4 in Construction, 1 in Family Services and 2 in volunteer services. Stay tuned for job descriptions coming to the website soon. In the meantime, feel free to contact Sheila to express interest.