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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.

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.

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    

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.

 

Habitat Epitomizes Margaret Mead’s Theory

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By Ariane Kjellquist

My Anthropology degree and seemingly-unrelated career as a non-profit marketing professional intersect in this quote by American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  The innovative idea of “partnership housing” developed in the mid 1970’s by farmer Clarence Jordan and eventual Habitat for Humanity founders Millard & Linda Fuller, epitomizes Mead’s theory. The concept conceived by a small group of people with a shared vision took root and 29 million people have since achieved strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter. Habitat for Humanity has undoubtedly changed the world.

Right here in our own community, Asheville Area Habitat has helped some 1,700 adults and children improve their housing and build a better future since our inception in 1983. In fact, today (February 11, 2020) marks our 37th Anniversary! We were the first Habitat affiliate in North Carolina; today there are more than 60.

So when the world’s problems seem too overwhelming, when you think four hours of volunteer service or a $10 donation, isn’t enough, think again. A few thoughtful, committed citizens created Habitat for Humanity on Koinonia Farm outside of Americus, Georgia more than four decades ago. In 1983, a small group founded Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (named WNC Habitat for Humanity at the time). The photo above is our original Board of Directors! ALL OF YOU – our Asheville Habitat volunteers, donors, sponsor, advocates, and ReStore supporters – are what keep changing the world for the better. Thank you and Happy Anniversary y’all!

If you’ve been on a hiatus and would like to engage with us again, or perhaps for the first time, please click here to learn how you can help.

Businesses Step Up to Support Affordable Housing

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By Beth Russo

“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” ~ Kathy Calvin

We love working with our business community. Seeing our local businesses – both the large ones with multiple worldwide locations and the small ones located in downtown Asheville– step up to be part of the housing solution in our community brings us great joy.

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 house.

Our 5th Business Bungalow, built in partnership with our local businesses, is currently under construction in our Candler community, Curry Court. The future homeowner, Belinda, will be unlocking her front door before summer begins.

Belinda has worked for Mission Hospital since 1999, and has been raising her son in a 1-bedroom apartment as a single mother. Like many people in our community, she got creative and Belinda turned a converted carport into a makeshift second bedroom, using a sheet for a door. This apartment had one other undesirable feature –a $400 plus heating cost during the winter months.

A sheet is not a door, and Belinda needs a permanently affordable option. She’s grateful to the businesses who agree – and are investing in her future home through sponsorships.

Our business community sees the benefits of providing funds – and volunteers – to support this work. Companies use this partnership to create meaningful employee engagement, to get team members to know each other outside of the office – and to be part of the larger community effort addressing a real local problem.

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 Belinda will purchase, with a monthly mortgage (and energy cost), that fits her budget. Asheville Habitat is proud to collaborate with our business community to make affordable homeownership within reach for more local families.

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

New Partnership to Meet Senior Housing Needs

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Though older adults (age 55+) comprise 20% of Buncombe County’s population, they have limited access to affordable housing options designed to meet their needs. Coordinator for Buncombe County Aging Plan Alison H. Climo shared, “Neither the current housing stock nor the booming development of new housing matches the expressed desire among older and aging residents to age in place. Buncombe County needs housing options that are affordable but also accessible to enable people of all ages, and all people as they age, to remain in the home of their choice.”

To that end, in the first phase of construction at its upcoming New Heights neighborhood (off of Old Haywood Road), Habitat will build 8 single-level townhomes specifically for aging adults, thanks to generous support from local retirement community, Deerfield. Funding from Deerfield and its newly formed Charitable Foundation includes a Full House Sponsorship ($55,000) on each of the 8 units, as well as $50,000 to research and develop senior-oriented house designs, financing options and HOA management.

“The ability to age with safety and dignity and to live in an age-friendly community shouldn’t be an option reserved for the wealthy. Everyone deserves to live in a stable, affordable home – in all stages of life. We are incredible grateful for Deerfield’s partnership in this important work of ensuring more of our aging neighbors have a safe, affordable home,” said Andy Barnett, Asheville Habitat’s Executive Director.

Specifically designed for and sold to qualified older adults, Habitat’s senior housing will include universal design elements such as:

  • An at-grade or ramped entrance to the main floor or the capability to easily install a ramp
  • Entry doorways and passageways at least 36″ wide
  • A bathroom that will accommodate a wheelchair in a 365-degree circle
  • One-level living that includes a full bath, kitchen, laundry, living space and 1+ bedroom
  • Additional occupant-specific accommodations

 

Site of New Heights as of Dec. 2019.

Like all Habitat homeowners, senior homebuyers will repay an affordable mortgage. To help identify potential homebuyers, Asheville Habitat will leverage existing relationships with Council of Aging, Land of Sky Regional Council and other agencies.

“We are so glad to be able to support affordable housing for seniors in Buncombe County. Deerfield residents have communicated their passion and support for Habitat in such practical ways over the years – consistent volunteerism and generous donations! We listened and are affirming their commitment to Asheville Habitat by investing nearly half a million dollars in the organization’s good work,” remarked Michelle Wooley, Director of Philanthropy at Deerfield.

To learn more about Habitat homeownership (senior housing or traditional single-family and townhome models) here or call 828.210.9362. Information sessions are held multiple times each month and the schedule of upcoming dates can be found on the website.

Volunteer Team Makes Big Single-Day Impact

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By Ariane Kjellquist, with contributions from Sydney Monshaw

Like most of our Home repair clients, Ms. Priscilla McDowell is an aging adult in need of home improvements that improve access and safety. Our Home Repair team recently tackled the job of completely rebuilding two large, crumbling and unsafe porches at Ms. McDowell’s home. This included removing the existing structures and building a smaller deck and landing with less steep stairs. Thanks to a crew of four volunteers from Beach Hensley Homes, the project was completed ahead of schedule. “I was planning to spend at least a week at this job,” shared Project Supervisor Sydney Monshaw. “With Beach Hensley’s help we were able to complete this project in just three days!”

Their volunteers arrived on Wednesday to the old decks already removed and footers for the new one ready to go. In the first hour, the deck was framed and the posts were set. By lunch break everything had decking, the stairs were hung, and handrails had been started. By the time the Beach Hensley crew left at 4:45pm (staying later than needed because they wanted to get it done) they had the entire porch completed, with the exception of one stair tread and three kick plates. And that work was only outstanding because they ran out of materials! With just a handful of very small things to finish the following day, this 5-day job was done in just 2 ½ days!

It’s not surprising that a team of professional contractors work more quickly and efficiently than a staff supervisor and a few volunteers with less or no construction experience. Habitat is used to working with volunteers that run the gamut from never having used a saw to trade professionals that could do the work in their sleep. But this crew brought added-value in the form of knowledge sharing. They took a minute here and there to explain why they were making certain choices. Sydney said, “As the supervisor of this jobsite, I am grateful for their efficiency, skill, and knowledge. As a member of the greater Asheville community, I am grateful for their generosity and willingness to give back. Ms. McDowell is not only safer because of them, she’s also proud and excited about her new back porch.”

Home Repair for low-income homeowners is a significant and growing community need. The population of aging adults in Buncombe County continues to grow, and one of the best ways to help residents live with more safety, security and dignity as they age, is to help them remain in the homes they already own. To try to keep up with demand, we have grown our repair program by adding a second supervisor and a second work van, and we continue to utilize three AmeriCorps members. We increased our goal mid-year from 60 to 70 jobs. Additionally, we manage “Aging in Place”, a sort of program-within-a-program, that serves clients that come to us through a partnership with The Council on Aging. And this year, we did a community project with Poder Emma, in which we served 25 families in one day, and trained community members to serve another 75 with security and safety upgrades.

As you can see, being able to complete a project in half the time is a substantial win for a program with aggressive goals and a team stretched thin. If your business of trade professionals can spare just one day to volunteer on a Habitat Home Repair project, we would LOVE to have you! Asheville Habitat has committed to serving another 1,000 families within 10 years and 600 will be through Home Repair. Be part of our success story! To learn more, call 828.210-9383 or email swallace@ashevillehabitat.org.

 

 

 

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