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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.

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.

Proud Recipient of the Parsec Prize

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Parsec Prize Winner 2019 Logo

We are thrilled to be one of nine non-profits to receive the Parsec Prize from Parsec Financial in 2019! Other winners were: OnTrack Financial Education & Counseling, Food Connection, Working Wheels, Asheville Art Museum, Susan G. Komen Charlotte, Arts Council of Moore County, Conserving Carolina, and Senior Services

The Parsec Prize was started in 2005 by Parsec Financial in Asheville, NC. The purpose of the Parsec Prize is to help local non-profits further their missions and improve our communities.

Asheville Habitat plan to use the funds to increase our capacity and expand our Home Repair program, a critical program that preserves existing affordable housing stock and enables low-income homeowners to remain in their homes as they age.

 

A Concentrated Dose of Habitat

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The first week of September in South Bend, IN was what our Executive Director Andy Barnett affectionately coins “the Olympics of Habitat,” referencing the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. An annual “Blitz Build” this event unites upwards of 600 individuals around the common vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. This year, the 35th annual Carter Work Project was hosted by Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County where volunteers built or improved 41 home in Mishawaka and South Bend, Indiana in one week.

Kenny Bush, our Senior Construction Supervisor and South Bend native, and our Construction Supervisor Emily Stevens led a team of Asheville Habitat volunteers on this epic Habitat trip. The Asheville team worked alongside others on House #20 amidst a block of twenty-two single family homes. 25-28 volunteers worked on each house, every day. “We started the day under a huge tent with breakfast, daily updates and logistics report, and a devotional. There were 600 people under the tent every morning,” Emily remarked about the magnitude. “Being amid of sea of so many like-minded volunteers was amazing. That kind of energy would be hard to create anywhere else. Everyone was so positive, well-intentioned and there because of the cause.”

A homecoming for Kenny, the trip was the same for Ralph Johnson, an Asheville Habitat construction volunteer who also hails from South Bend. In fact, the street they worked on was just a block from where he grew up. The rest of our volunteers comprised four different work days; so although Asheville core volunteers, many did not know each other beforehand. But you can be assured that this trip created lasting friendships among these cores who have come back to Asheville with an even greater passion for the work we all do.

Having participated in Carter Work Projects in the past, Andy noted that “they are a concentrated dose of Habitat and a reminder that every local affiliate is a small part of a global network.”

There were many memorable moments experienced by each volunteer, but the one that stands out in the entire team’s mind was the “big reveal”. Future homeowner Loretta Adams had not told her two daughters about their future Habitat home. When Jimmy Carter himself broke the news to the young girls in the front yard of their future home, there was not a dry eye in sight. The Asheville team then showed the girls around their house and they each picked out their bedrooms and started talking about paint colors. Mom did have to draw the line and say no to pink walls in the living room.

Next year’s Carter Work Project will be in Nashville, TN, a short 4 hour drive for interested folks from Western North Carolina.

To see photos, please click here.

Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project

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ASHEVILLE, NC – On Saturday August 25th team of 10- two construction staffers and eight volunteers- left for St. Joseph County, IN to participate in the 35th annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. This entire week the team is working alongside former President and former First Lady Carter, future homeowners, and hundreds of other volunteers from Indiana and around the world to build or improve 38 homes in Mishawaka and South Bend.

This is the first year Asheville Habitat has sent a team to the Carter Work Build, a transformative and inspirational project to build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. The team will build a house for future homeowner Loretta Adams, a mother of two. For Asheville Construction Supervisor Kenny Busch and core volunteer Ralph Johnson, the chance to leave an impact on this community is particularly special. They’re returning home.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity and especially grateful to return to South Bend,” Johnson said. “Because I was born and raised there. My home is just a few blocks south of where we will be building.”

In 1984 the Carters led a Habitat for Humanity work group to New York, serving 19 families in need of safe, affordable housing. That was the inaugural Carter Work Project, which is now takes place every year in a different community around the world. The Carters have worked alongside over 100,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build decent and affordable shelter for all.

 

Four More Families Home

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When drug activity in her neighborhood led to increased violence, LaQuila Harris and her daughter began spending their days at work and school, and their evenings anywhere but at their apartment. It was exhausting and LaQuila knew they could not continue living like that.

Kedric Justice noticed increased drug activity and crime where he was living too. Having lost his own father to violence, he was painfully aware that crime wasn’t just something that happened to other people. And, his rent had sky-rocketed to $900/month.

Drug activity was on the rise where Staci Williams and her children were living too. And because it was an income-based apartment, she feared getting a raise at work.

Benitia Henson had to convert a closet under the stairs into a makeshift bedroom for her son.

A search for something better led all of these families to Habitat. Thank you for making the opportunity to purchase a safe, affordable Habitat house possible for local families. Together, we will empower 1,000 more families in the next decade to build better futures on safe, stable housing.

To view photos from the 4-house dedication, please click here.

Thank you to the businesses & individuals who sponsored these homes: Bank of America Merrill-Lynch, the coalition of local business that supported the Business Bungalow House, Eaton, Ernest & Shirley Ferguson, The Ferguson Family,  friends of Jerry and Lou Towson who sponsored a lot in their name, The Guthy Family, our Legacy Builders Society, Publix Supermarket Charities, The Pullium Foundation, and Wicked Weed.

 

 

Warm Up With Some Fair Trade Coffee

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Did you know that the Asheville Habitat ReStore sells Guatemalan roast coffee from Dynamite Roasting Co.? By the bag and the cup! Find it in the bookstore area of the store, on the upper floor.

Proceeds from the sale of this coffee go to Habitat for Humanity Guatemala for the installation of Healthy Home Kits (smokeless stoves, sanitary latrines, and water filters) in the homes of Guatemalan coffee farmers. “Selling coffee that directly helps ensure Guatemalan coffee farmers have a decent and healthy home, brings our work full circle,” said Scott Stetson, ReStore General Manager.

“Our farmer friends work so hard to provide us with coffee crops of exceptional quality. When they and their families are healthy, communities grow stronger in their region- and in ours. A healthy farmer makes the world healthier in countless ways. This partnership between Dynamite Roasting Co. and Habitat for Humanity is direct action with immediate results. We are thrilled to put this positive plan into motion,” said Josh Gibbs, co-owner Dynamite Roasting Co.

Makenzie Brown, Habitat Guatemala Donor Relations Officer added, “We are grateful for our partnership with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. It is because of such support that we are able to work alongside Guatemalan families, and together, improve their quality of life. Today, 46% of Guatemalans use an inadequate latrine or no sanitary services at all, 95% of the water in Guatemala is contaminated, and 52% of Guatemalans suffer from respiratory disease. It is our hope that with each Healthy Home Kit, a family will make a small change that will have a big impact in their home.”

Proceeds from the ReStore have been supporting Asheville Habitat’s building programs since 1990, when the resale shop (then known as the Habitat Home Store) first opened its doors on Biltmore Avenue. Supporting a sister affiliate in Guatemala through the sale of coffee, is another way the ReStore supports Habitat’s vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Learn more about Habitat Guatemala’s Healthy Home Kits.

Learn more about Dynamite Roasting Co.

 

AmeriCorps Member Reflects on a Special Day

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The Most “Habitat” Day

By Sydney Monshaw (pictured center and top far R)

Towards the end of October I experienced a day so quintessentially “Habitat” it was almost unreal. As an AmeriCorps member serving with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity on the Home Repair team, my days are fairly similar. Our small team works all over Buncombe County repairing everything from porches to roofs, and everything in between. On this particular fall day, however, my day started at a local attorney’s office and ended at a Habitat neighborhood of 10 new homes. On that singular day, I attended a closing with a new homeowner in the morning, worked on a Home Repair project down the road from Habitat’s newest neighborhood, and attended a 4-house dedication event in that same community later that afternoon.

I had never been to a house closing before and was not entirely sure what to expect. What struck me most was the palpable joy in the room as the mortgage details were explained, documents were signed, and a young couple became homeowners for the first time. These two were so proud of all of their hard work, and rightfully so! Not only had they physically contributed to the construction of their new home, they had also completed a full series of homeowner education classes. They were set to move into their new space that afternoon and were eager to get I’s dotted and T’s crossed so that they could get back to packing and moving. This couple has three small children who were also excited to help their parents move all of their belongings, pick out their rooms, and turn their new house into a home.

After the closing, I changed into my painting pants and work boots and jumped in our van to meet volunteers on our Home Repair job site. Our job that week was working on the home of the President of the Shiloh Community Association, scraping and repainting the exterior of her house. She is 80 years old and one of the busiest ladies I have ever met! She volunteers for a local radio station, goes on senior trips to explore nearby cities, and works tirelessly for the Shiloh community where she has lived for more than 50 years. It was great to be able to help her, and I could swear that on this day I saw the fresh coat of paint sparkle a little bit in the afternoon sun. Maybe it was just wet paint, but based on the way the whole day was unfolding, I think it was a little bit of Habitat magic.

Later, after thanking my volunteers and sending them home tired and covered in paint, I walked up the street to Habitat’s McKinley neighborhood where the last four houses in the 10-house community were to be dedicated. The event was just getting started and as I walked down the street towards the big tent I remember feeling overwhelmed by the gratitude I had for the amazing people working at our Habitat affiliate and the incredible community I am lucky to be a part of. The weather was perfect with bright blue skies and fall foliage, kids were playing in the street, and Habitat supporters were mingling with construction folks and homeowner families. The best way to describe the dedication is elation personified. There was joy on the part of the homeowners, the donors, the volunteers, the Habitat staff, and all of the community members who were there to celebrate homes, communities, and hope.

That day highlighted the incredible work that Habitat does every day. Homes are built by dedicated volunteers, with generous financial support of donors; homeowners pour themselves into their journey towards homeownership; and homes are repaired, enabling homeowners to live more safely and comfortably in their own homes. Habitat is a “hand up, not a hand out,” and that was especially evident on this special fall day. It was easy to see all the partnerships between homeowners, Habitat, and the Shiloh community. Together, we serve the needs of the community in a way that makes sense.

I feel extraordinarily thankful to be spending my AmeriCorps term with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. Days like this incredible October day will stay with me for the rest of my life as a reminder of what hard work, dedication, and love can do.

Photos: Holt Pearce’s Journey to Homeownership

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Holt Pearce came to Asheville because of the music of Warren Haynes. Anyone who has volunteered with Habitat’s Before the Jam, Lend a Hand program over the past eight years is well acquainted with Holt. He is the kind of guy who places importance on helping others. After years of helping others on their path to homeownership, he applied and decided to allow other to help him.

On Thursday November 16th Holt Pearce closed on his affordable 2 bedroom/one bathroom home, making him and his daughter Piper the final family to purchase and move into their home on McKinley Avenue! Best wishes to Holt and Piper as they start this new chapter of their lives!

Holt on his first day of sweat equity.

Holt with his daughter Piper at a key passing for a Christmas Jam House in 2013, before applying for homeownership.

His daughter Piper signing a stud during the kick-off event for their house.

Holt signing his closing documents Nov. 16, 2017 at Roberts & Stevens in downtown Asheville.

Holt working at McKinley Avenue March 2017.

Holt shouts “hello” to his next door neighbor’s youngest daughter as she waves while moving in Thursday Nov. 16.

Holt in front of his affordable home he purchased that morning, Thursday Nov. 16.

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