Reflections on a Summer of Service

AmeriCorps is a federally-funded national service program that provides capacity building opportunities to nonprofits, schools, and government agencies by placing members within those organizations. These members give their time and talent to these programs and receive hands-on professional experience in a nonprofit environment, a living stipend, and an education award they can use to pay for college or repay student loans. Habitat Michigan has placed AmeriCorps members with Habitat affiliates across the state and similar agencies focused on assisting low-income homeowners for over 10 years. Last year, our AmeriCorps program piloted a Summer of Service program that we continued in our current program year. As a second cohort of summer members start their service terms, I wanted to reflect back on the stories and accomplishments from a few of last year’s summer members.

From Tom Hunton, who is currently serving a second, fulltime term at Habitat for Humanity of Kent County:

"My role as Construction Liaison is to assist construction management staff with processing Neighborhood Improvement Projects (NIP) and contribute design knowledge and skills as needed on NIP and new construction projects. In addition, my role also allows me to serve as an assistant to site supervisors where I am able to train/supervise volunteers during on-site construction tasks. 

Within the year prior to beginning my quarter term with AmeriCorps I acquired my Residential Builder's License and graduated from college with a Bachelor's Degree in Interior Design. It had always been my goal to improve the health, well-being and productivity of residential users through the use of design principles and quality construction. However, there was a bit of uncertainty in regards to the extent to which I would be able to use my skills to benefit users who truly need it. 

Time spent interning at a for-profit, high-end residential construction company forced me to question whether the field I was currently working in was the proper medium to help those in need. During this time of reflection, I remembered the times I had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity over previous years. On these volunteer construction days I was able to use the knowledge and skills I had at the time to directly help others in a very physical and instantaneous manor. After ruminating on how rewarding volunteering with Habitat was in relation to how dissatisfied I was working for my current employer, I reached out to Habitat Kent and was pointed toward their open AmeriCorps Construction Liaison Position.

Currently, in this position I am able to serve others every day on multiple levels. Whether it is in the office assisting with administrative tasks and lending design skills, or on-site training and directing volunteers, improving the health, well-being and productivity of residential occupants, along with improving my community as a whole, is now a part of my every-day life.

Through serving with AmeriCorps my perspective has changed. Previously, I was apprehensive about non-profit/service work due to pure ignorance and uncertainty about how sustainable it was from a personal economic stand point. This forced me to continuously attempt to figure out how to serve others in a high-end, for-profit medium. Now, through time spent with Habitat Kent, my misconceptions about non-profit/service work have been shattered. Therefore, finding work at a non-profit company in the future, in order to make valuable and direct contributions to a community, seems realistic and in line with my mind-set."

From Justin Byrd, who served with Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity as a Construction Liaison between college semesters:

"I have helped with a lot of little projects and worked with a lot of amazing volunteers while with my site that have really made a huge impact on my community. I have helped with over six wheelchair ramp builds, allowing individuals who were previously stuck in their homes because of being with a walker or in a wheel chair to get out of their homes when they would like, but even more importantly in the case of an emergency. The majority of the people that we have built the ramps for were stuck in their homes and would not have been able to get out, if they would have had a fire or other emergency. The people in need of this assistance and these ramps were very appreciative and were happy to be able to get in and out of their homes once again. However, we at Habitat for Humanity would not have been able to build all of these ramps for the people of the community without all of the great volunteers who have donated their time, skill, and hands to help with the building of these ramps and many other projects. We at the Battle Creek Area Habitat for Humanity site have had tons of great volunteers of a wide range of ages and skill levels during this summer. But all groups of volunteers are a great help and help to get things done that we wouldn’t be able to do without them, as well as learn new skills for themselves and experience the great joy of helping someone in need from their own community." 

From Todd Holm, who was hired on at Community Homeworks in Kalamazoo after his summer term ended:

"During my AmeriCorps service at Community Homeworks in Kalamazoo, I had the opportunity to teach several home repair workshops and classes to local Habitat recipients and other countywide homeowners. I taught classes like Wall Repair and Window and Glass Repair, along with hands on workshops Repairing Rotten Wood/Trim and Repairing Window Screens.

Throughout my career as a builder, I never realized how much knowledge and experience I had gained from actually working “on the job.” It was gratifying to me, both personally and spiritually, to have the opportunity to share that knowledge to many of my citywide neighbors. The enthusiasm felt by a number of the classroom participants reassured me that the changes I was making in my professional life were not only positively affecting me but were more importantly effecting others.

We (the building and trades community) need to teach the skills of homeownership to all new and promising homeowners. Owning a home, is for most Americans, the largest single investment they will ever make. By offering classes and workshops to homeowners, especially those in need, we foster a new type of homeowner that will be more responsible stewards to their property and community. Having the knowledge to either fix a problem or know who to call for most homeowners offers peace of mind and makes for a healthier living environment."

Habitat Michigan is continuously grateful for the work our AmeriCorps program members have done for individuals across the state and the affiliates where they served. We are currently accepting applications from affiliates or other agencies looking to host an AmeriCorps member, as well as potential members who want to serve their communities through Habitat!

Bridget Ferrigan

AmeriCorps Program Manager