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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.

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

Celebrating our volunteers!

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

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.

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!

A Strong Start for Women Build #13

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Women Build House #13 officially began construction April 17, and since then Asheville Habitat has seen numerous dedicated groups of sponsors out at the jobsite in Arden lending a hand. There may have been a lot of rain, but that didn’t put a damper on the volunteers or the house progress. Volunteers worked diligently, under the watchful eye of Construction Supervisor John Meadows, to build frames for the walls and raise them. Several Blueprint Sponsors were present at the jobsite- WomBATS kicked-off the build and this week the Fiji Hammerheads, Peggy Crowe Realtor, and the Wild Bodemas all spent a day working together on Ashley Blankenship‘s future home.

For the 11th year, Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s are engaging women nationwide to work together to build Habitat homes during this year’s National Women Build Week from May 5-13, 2018. On Friday, May 11th Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s hosted a special volunteer work day where Women Build and Lowe’s volunteers worked alongside future homeowner Ashley Blankenship on Women Build House #13 and then celebrated together with a potluck lunch and a home dedication. Renowned cookbook author and homesteader Ashley English of Small Measure joined and talked about the importance of community and home.

To see a WLOS clip, click here.

Click here to view a photo gallery from the event!

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