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A Good Year for a Year of Service

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We are thrilled to welcome back two AmeriCorps members from last year, Chris Nolan and Jennie Goldenberg, who will continue their service with the Home Repair team. The mission of Habitat resonates with these two – Chris who learned since graduating with a Linguistics Degree that his heart is in humanitarian non-profit work where he can use his hands, and Jennie who earned a Masters in Social Work and is committed to giving back to her community. Read more about Chris and Jennie and their AmeriCorps experience thus far.

Masked Americorps

On the New Home Construction side, we welcome Lilian Buchangroff from Vermont and Amanda Marley from Pennsylvania. To say we’re thrilled to have Lilian and Amanda join the team would be an understatement. With 100+ weekly volunteers called off, staff are spread thin when it comes to workload and far when it comes to location: we’re currently building downtown, and in West Asheville (Curry Court and New Heights), Arden, and Shiloh. “They have hit the ground running and are a great addition to our team,” shared construction manager Robin Clark.

Asheville native MaryKent Wolff joins us in Volunteer Services, helping Construction, Administration, the ReStore and Deconstruction. After 4 years in Greensboro, she was ready to return to the mountains and the community she loves and explore the non-profit sector.

This year of service will be memorable for sure, but hopefully for reasons other than Covid-19. AmeriCorps service is an opportunity to gain insight into the workings of a successful non-profit, work alongside like-minded people, learn about affordable housing, and developing strong leadership skills. We are honored that Chris, Jennie, Lilian, Amanda, and MaryKent have chosen to spend a year with us!

P.S. – In November, we will be welcoming an AmeriCorps VISTA to our homeowner services team. Stay tuned!

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 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.

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.”

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.

 

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.

 

Welcome This Year’s Service Members!

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By Maddy Alewine, Communications Specialist

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is pleased to add seven new team members who, through programs including AmeriCorps, VISTA, and Hands and Feet of Asheville, are beginning their year of service. Service program participants significantly increase Asheville Habitat’s ability to empower Buncombe County residents with affordable housing.

Their impact is felt in nearly every corner of the organization. On the construction side, Jennie Goldenberg and Chris Nolan have begun their year with the Home Repair team and will be joined by another AmeriCorps member, Lucas Hanson, in October. Accompanying Asheville Habitat’s three full-time Home Repair staffers, the AmeriCorps members double the team’s efforts to reach the fiscal year goal of 70 families served through the Home Repair program.

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Americorps Mackenzie Hampson served from 2018-2019 with the New Home construction team.

“We would not be able to meet this aggressive goal without the increased capacity provided by our AmeriCorps members,” notes Home Repair Manager Joel Johnson. “Specifically, having AmeriCorps members has enabled us to work with partner agencies to do more Aging in Place work in the past 12-18 months. This program serves some of the most vulnerable people in our community and is an increasingly large part of our team’s work.”

On the new home side of construction, Thomas Brennan is now leading volunteer groups in the building of new affordable homes at Curry Court in Candler. And in the administrative office, Krysta Osweiler, Cecily Schenimann, and Deanna McDonnell are working behind the scenes on volunteer management and recruitment, family services support and outreach, and office management.

While Asheville Habitat benefits from the generosity of these talented and driven individuals, participants benefit too. They look back

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Sydney Monshaw, AmeriCorps member from 2017 – 2019 spent two terms with Home Repair. She was recently hired on full-time as a Home Repair Supervisor.

at their service year as immensely rewarding and a powerful growth experience. In the past two years, after completing their terms, three AmeriCorps members were hired on as full-time Asheville Habitat staffers in the ReStore, in new home construction, and in the Home Repair department. Other service year members have gone on to graduate school, joined the workforce, or signed on for another year of service with Asheville Habitat or elsewhere.

Ryan Bing, an AmeriCorps member in 2017-2018 with Asheville Habitat’s Home Repair team, went to graduate school at Clemson University after completing his service year. During his year repairing homes in all corners of Buncombe County, he learned a wide range of technical skills as well as a lot about himself, he said.

“Honestly the nature of our job and the nature of Home Repair, involves doing a lot of unpleasant things sometimes and it can be incredibly humbling,” Bing said. “Not doing it specifically for a thank you or a salary or something like that- is something you can really carry forward in many aspects of life.”

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Ryan Bing, right, working alongside a volunteer during a community project at Asheville High School.

AmeriCorps Get Things Done

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By Maddy Alewine  It’s hard to put into a nice, neat paragraph how AmeriCorps impacts Asheville Habitat and in turn, the community. This year’s five AmeriCorps- Sydney, Billy, Nora, Kaitlyn, and Mackenzie- started their year with us jumping in head first, taking on each new challenge with gusto and passion.

A Year of Service

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We are thrilled to introduce our newest class of AmeriCorps members. We welcome Nora, Kaitlyn and Mackenzie to our team. Sydney and Janice were with us last year and have returned for a second term!

My name is Nora Gilmer and I’m from Piney Flats, TN. I love being outside, coffee, and my goofy dog Gertrude. Last year, I served with AmeriCorps NCCC, Pacific Region. My team traveled to Washington, the U.S. Virgin Islands, California, and Oregon. As my time with NCCC came to an end, I was very excited to have the opportunity to move a little closer to home and start another year of service with Habitat!

 

 

My name is Kaitlyn Ferdinande and I am from Michigan. I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU). I was really involved in the Alternative Breaks program at SVSU and worked my way up from Participant to Site Leader, and then served as the Fundraising Coordinator. The program opened up my passion for Social Justice issues such as affordable housing. I also worked as the Volunteer Coordinator in SVSU’s Student Life Center. I have worked with Asheville Habitat in the past as part of Alternative Break, and I am excited to now serve as the Volunteer Services Coordinator for the nonprofit during my AmeriCorps term.

 

Hi! My name is Mackenzie Hampson, and I’m originally from Baltimore, MD but have lived in Charleston, SC for the past five years. I went to the College of Charleston and earned my degree in Finance. I was a year round swimmer for nine years, but now I just enjoy any fun way of staying active. I love being outside as much as possible, whether it’s going to the beach, hiking, running, etc. I also love working with and helping people, and have found that joy through Habitat. I participated in two Collegiate Challenge trips through Habitat for Humanity and I’m thrilled to be continuing for a whole year!

 

My name is Sydney Monshaw and I am thrilled to be serving a second term as a member of the Asheville Habitat Home Repair Team! I graduated from NYU in 2017 with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Poverty Studies. Throughout my time in college I had the opportunity to work at several different non-profits including Appalachia Service Project, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, and The Corporation for Supportive Housing. I have known for a long time that safe, affordable, sustainable housing for everyone is something that I am passionate about and I am excited to spend another year working to make homes around the Asheville Area safer, more accessible, and more livable for families.

 

My name is Janice Marie Payne. I am originally a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, currently celebrating my 3rd year of residency in Asheville, NC and married to the best husband ever, Samuel. I have six siblings, one biological son, three step daughters and six grandchildren with my husband. Included in our family is Marty, my 9.5 lb. miniature Yorkie Terrier who I just happen to think he’s the smartest and cutest dog in Asheville!

Being a Pastor’s wife has proven to be one of the most fulfilling events of my life. It allows me to meet people and share my experience as a leading lady in the Church. Music and singing is a vital part of my life and I also enjoy Sudoku puzzles, reading, traveling, and experimental cooking.

I am currently serving my second term as an AmeriCorps Vista Outreach Coordinator at Asheville Habitat for Humanity. This position affords me the opportunity to educate the public about Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s affordable homeownership and home repair programs. The position has connected me to communities in Asheville in ways I could never have achieved on my own, and I enjoy meeting and collaborating with others for positive community change.