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.”

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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.”

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.

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 Jennie 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

Overcoming the Distance

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Happy National Volunteer Appreciation Week!! We recognize all our volunteers who have served and continue to serve remotely. Distance can’t stop our volunteers!!

Virtual Connections

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The routine of showing up to swing a hammer or lay flooring alongside a community of volunteers, staff, and future homeowners is for many Habitat volunteers as ingrained in their daily life as their weekly trip to the grocery.  As if the cancellation of all volunteer participation on jobsites wasn’t interruption enough for our volunteers, there was another meaningful tradition within this weekly routine that was interrupted as well.

The Service Experience – Thus Far

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This reflection was written by AmeriCorps Member Thomas Brennan. He works on Asheville Habitat’s New Home Construction team.

“This first quarter has been an amazing experience for me as I worked on all of the houses in our Candler neighborhood (Curry Court), which includes 4 single homes and 8 townhomes. In these past few months I started learning all of the construction skills I want to learn and use as I develop my career – including wall framing, stucco, flooring, painting, roof installation, insulation and more.

I have made more 80-year old friends than I ever would have thought! And I have worked with, and learned about, some of the amazing future homeowners as they slowly picked away at their “sweat equity” hours.

My time so far has been meaningful to me in a few ways, the first being it has been extremely beneficial in helping me start to understand what type of field I may want to go into. One of the reasons I wanted to take on this experience was to see if I enjoyed doing construction and to see how the whole project was run. I have learned so much, and I have also gathered priceless tips, stories, and advice from my many volunteer friends.

The second reason is that I have learned so much about affordable housing and our community. I was not aware of the lack of affordable housing and the unfortunate reasons behind it. This new knowledge has pushed me to further help our future homeowners, and made me start thinking about ways to address the problem and consider alternative solutions. As I drive around and explore new areas I am now always considering prices of land/buildings and what could be turned into housing alternatives.

The third reason my service so far has been meaningful, is hearing how thankful the future homeowners are, and how their lives will be changed. What they may not realize is I am just as thankful for them and their stories. They will continue to stay with me and influence my life as well.”

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

 

An 828 Where Everyone Can Afford a Home

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By Beth Russo

Living in the 828 is great! Whether you’ve been here for generations, or just got here as quickly as you could, the Western NC area – particularly Asheville – is a warm, welcoming place with great places to eat, drink, recreate, and relax.

Asheville also has a heart of gold when it comes to supporting the causes that make our community great. At Asheville Habitat for Humanity, we’re grateful to this group of businesses who offered their support of our first-ever #build828 day! Each business donated a portion of sales to the Business Bungalow House on August 28th (828 day).

828 Hats | Asheville Rooftop Bar Tours | Biscuit Head | Dynamite Roasting Co. | Ginger’s Revenge
| Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store | Sawhorse Restaurant | Still Point Wellness | Summit Coffee | The Hop Ice Cream Café and the Hop West | UpCountry Brewing

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Blueprint Sponsor New Morning Gallery in front of the 4th Business Bungalow House in Curry Court.

We are so glad for the partnership of these local businesses. If you patronize them, please say thank you!

We’d also like to give a great big shout out to the good folks at Asheville Brewing Company. During the month of August, they showed two short videos for us – one pointing people to our new ReStore in Weaverville and the other educating people about our monthly giving program, #build828.

While the local community was pouring love and support into #build828 day and the 5th Business Bungalow House, another collection of businesses have been pledging support and helping us build out at the jobsite. The financial support that local businesses provide – whether as a Housing Champion, Blueprint Sponsor or at a higher level – helps make affordable homeownership possible. Every dollar adds up to an affordable Green Built home that another local family or individual can purchase.

Finley Family

Future homeowner of Business Bungalow House #5, Belinda Finley, a mother and systems courier at Mission Hospital, is looking forward to paying an affordable mortgage rather than costly rent– and saying goodbye to $400/month heating bills. Habitat homes are certified energy-efficient with heating/cooling costs not exceeding $35/month. Read more about Belinda here.

Local businesses know that our entire community is stronger when residents – and employees – have decent and affordable housing. We love the 828, and the people and businesses who make it a great place for EVERYONE to live.

To learn more about joining our monthly giving club, #build828 – contact Zoe Trout at ztrout@ashevillehabitat.org. If you have a business and would like to learn more about sponsorship and Business Bungalow House #5, please contact Beth Russo at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org.

Out of the office and onto the land

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By Ariane Kjellquist

“Redistribution of dirt and water,” is not a phrase I expected to hear on my recent tour of Old Haywood, a future Asheville Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. But it’s one of the first things Director of Construction Services Paul Reeves started talking about as we watched the excavator move with precision and he pointed uphill.

Before my visit to the Old Haywood site, I thought I knew what infrastructure and development entailed. Grading, running water and sewer lines and underground utilities, pouring sidewalks and paving roads. It is that– and much more. Going from site identification to construction is a lengthy and complex process; one that includes design, engineering, bidding, contracting and more. It is 2-3 years of work for a project of this size before we can even pull the first permit, pour the first foundation, or frame the first wall!

Within minutes of arriving on site, I learned that the soil being dug up to create a water catchment system near the front of the parcel was going to literally be moved up the hill, redistributed, compacted, checked by an environmental engineer, and eventually built upon.

I also learned that the environmental engineer will visit the site no less than 30 times during the infrastructure and development phase!

I learned too that working with the contours of the land can be difficult. As we walked the property it was evident that building a neighborhood in a mountainous region comes with unique challenges that flatlanders don’t face. Adding townhomes to the mix adds to the complexity. With the larger footprint of townhomes it is even more important that we have – or in this case, create – flatter lots.

And about the water…catching storm water and run-off and moving it safely across the site so it does not impact homes and foundations is part of the development plan, too. For example, an existing culvert will be replaced with a newer and larger one for better flow and performance.

Though I did not fully understand all that is involved in taking an empty lot to a thriving community until recently, I did know that Asheville Habitat has been doing this successfully for decades. Hundreds of families and thousands of individuals have built better futures on the foundation of safe, decent, affordable Habitat homes.

Unfortunately, there are still thousands in our community who need a decent, affordable place to live. And others may have a roof over their head, but just barely. 1 in 6 families in the U.S. pay more than 50% of their income towards housing costs and are forced to make difficult choices when it comes to other basic needs like food, healthcare, and transportation. Asheville Habitat is committed to empowering 1,000 more families to improve their housing in the next decade, and Old Haywood is one step towards this goal.

Old Haywood will be our largest neighborhood to date, with 98 units of affordable housing comprised of both single-family homes and townhomes. This is a bold step for us. But we have a history of being bold– and successful. We invite you to be part of a solution to our region’s affordable housing shortage. Give a gift, become a sponsor, volunteer to help us build, advocate for smart housing policies. Thank you!

 

A empty field to 21 homes, a thriving community

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Asheville Habitat is excited to announce the completion of its first neighborhood in South Buncombe- a 21-home community in Arden. Preliminary infrastructure began in the fall of 2016 and the last family bought their home, Student Build #4, in April of 2019.

Businesses That Build Homes and Communities

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By Zoe Trout & Beth Russo

We love our business community!

Local businesses know that our entire community is stronger when residents – and employees – have decent and affordable housing. We see this throughout the year at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but never more so than when building the Business Bungalow.

The fourth Business Bungalow started construction last week, and is a house sponsored by local companies of all sizes. Longtime supporters Eaton Corporation launched this year’s Business Bungalow with a $20,000 challenge gift. In their 11th year of sponsorship, Eaton made this gift and encouraged other businesses to get involved at any level. Business Bungalow 4 has raised more than $52,000 so far, with over 40 businesses participating!

This house sponsorship includes all size businesses (from very small to very large), who band together to help build an affordable, energy efficient home. Restaurants like Copper Crown give a percentage of their proceeds from one evening of sales, while Rezaz is running specials throughout the month of March to support this build.

Other companies, like Blue Ridge Orthodontics, use their sponsorship support to bring their employees from the office out to a Habitat jobsite to share a team building experience volunteering to build this house.

The financial support that local businesses provide – whether as a Housing Champion, Blueprint Sponsor or at a higher level – helps make Habitat homes affordable. Every dollar adds up to an affordable Green Built home that a deserving family will purchase. Asheville Habitat is proud to collaborate with so many local businesses to make affordable homeownership within reach for more local families. Click here to see all of our wonderful sponsors! We are especially excited that this year’s Business Bungalow is the first townhome built in our 36-year history. Now offering a mix of housing types, this is another way Habitat is working to create even more affordable homeownership opportunities for folks that live and work in Buncombe County.

If you are interested in joining this diverse group of businesses please contact Beth Russo at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org for more information. Thank you!