According to Director of National Service Peter Rumsey, the overarching theme this year is “Making an investment in leaders of the cause of affordable housing.” Right now, the program involves some 400 volunteers working in 110 different communities in 36 states and Washington, D.C.
“Over the course of our service year, we will be serving more than 2,000,” he said.
This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the partnership between Habitat and AmeriCorps. Habitat was one of the first organizations to enter into such a partnership, starting in 1994.
“Over the last 20 years, AmeriCorps has really been a leadership pipeline for Habitat, has really helped us grow,” Rumsey said. “That has allowed us to serve more families, have more of an impact when we’re invested in people who know and understand affordable housing. It brings us closer to our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”
Clive Rainey has been working to make that vision a reality as long as anyone has. He is considered the group’s first volunteer.
“I knew (Habitat founder) Millard Fuller,” he said. “He wanted to get me involved, but at the time I was teaching middle school in Georgia, in April 1977, in a class where none of the students could spell their name. One student asked me why she needed to know any of this stuff, and I told her you need an education for a better life. She said, ‘yeah, that’s what they told my mama.”
Rainey said he decided to go visit the child’s family home after that. “It was a shack, with no doors or windows, no electricity, no running water, no hope. I went back and decided to stop wasting my time in the classroom and start doing what needed to be done to give people hope. Since then, I’ve seen children grow up in Habitat homes that have gone on to graduate from Harvard University, mothers who have gone on to get their GEDs and more. Many of them point to the house and say ‘that was it.’ I like to think of the houses as trampolines, not safety nets.”
As he is talking, a volunteer walks past and lets him know that she has posted some of his remarks from earlier in the day on Facebook. “I heard from a friend that saw that and she said she was still inspired from hearing you at the national meeting.”
Justine Tsao of the Wake County, N.C. Habitat Chapter, is at the other end of the generational spectrum. She first became involved in Habitat as a volunteer in Durham in June, enjoyed it and decided to sign up for a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Her term began in late August.
“My background is in the corporate world,” she said. “I was working in sales, collections, management and recruiting, and I was good at it. But I felt like I was just fixed on climbing the ladder. It didn’t satisfy my need for fulfillment, for service. So I left. Leaving all that behind was liberating and empowering, but it was also really scary. I was leaving behind what I knew and what I had gotten good at.”
She says she felt, ultimately, that “success was just defined as climbing the ladder, selling as much as I could, getting commission. But I didn’t feel like I was making any impact, like I was making a living, but not making a life.”
After working with Habitat every day, she decided to join the AmeriCorps network full time. Habitat in Wake County had an opening, she applied for it and got the job. She said she has plans to go back to school for a master’s degree in social work.”
In addition to training and networking at Shocco, the volunteers will also be working with the local chapter and volunteers to refurbish and repair local homes, this time on Isbell Circle, according to Senior Specialist Graham Green and Wendy Westerhouse of the Talladega Habitat For Humanity chapter.
“When the new bridge on Isbell Circle is built, this will be a big advantage for that neighborhood,” she said.
The local chapter will also be recruiting more volunteers. The work day will go from about 10:30 a.m. to about 3 p.m., and there will be a tent set up with application forms to help anyone interested from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Applications can also be mailed in or submitted online.
Green added “It’s always a joy to come here,” to Shocco. “We’ve got young people coming here from all over the country, and they’re the future. They know the vision, and they will go on until everyone has a decent place to live.”
Contact Chris Norwood at firstname.lastname@example.org