My AmeriCorps Story
By Sydney Monshaw
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.
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
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.
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.
Interested in serving as an AmeriCorps member with Asheville Habitat? Click here to see the opportunities.