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Longtime Habitat supporter embraces AmeriCorps event

By Julie Gurnon

 

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Callie Speakman, 25, began working with Habitat on a youth mission trip 11 years ago. Now she’s helping build homes in Pensacola, Fla., as an AmeriCorps member.

   
 

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AmeriCorps members raise the wall frames on three houses that will be part of the 114-home Camshire Meadows subdivision in Pensacola, Fla.

   

Seven months into her 10-month term as an AmeriCorps National Direct member, Callie Speakman, 25, is participating in the event every Habitat AmeriCorps member anticipates: the annual Build-a-Thon.

Speakman, who works with the Pensacola, Fla., affiliate, and 50 other AmeriCorps members from Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado and other Florida affiliates kicked off the 2011 Build-a-Thon on May 1. The members began building the first three homes of what will become Camshire Meadows, a subdivision of 114 affordable homes.

Speakman’s journey to becoming an AmeriCorps member began the summer before her freshman year in high school. At 14, the Dover, Del., native accompanied her church youth group on a mission trip to help build a Habitat house in New Hampshire.

“We liked Habitat so much because you could see the results,” she said. “You knew you were helping to physically put a roof over someone’s head. So we kept choosing Habitat for our mission trips.”

For Speakman, the next four summers saw trips to areas in North Carolina that had suffered significant flood damage after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, including Tarboro, Princeville and Goldsboro.

She especially remembers the trip to Princeville, a town established by freed slaves in 1865. Instead of working on a house, she helped reglaze the stained-glass windows in a historic church that had been damaged by flooding.

Speakman’s involvement with Habitat slowed during her years at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, although she reunited with some former youth group members during her sophomore year for a return trip to Goldsboro.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in film studies, she moved back to Delaware. It wasn’t until last year that Speakman heard about the AmeriCorps program.

She was volunteering in the office of Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, creating a Facebook page and doing “anything they needed me to do,” when she became friends with an AmeriCorps member.

“I was there when she left to go on a Build-a-Thon, and I saw how excited she was for that. AmeriCorps members with other nonprofits don’t get the opportunity to travel and meet other volunteers. With Habitat, there’s a network of people you can rely on.”

When another AmeriCorps member at Habitat Central Delaware completed her service year as the volunteer coordinator last May, Speakman filled in. A few months later, she applied for an AmeriCorps position in several locations, and accepted Pensacola Habitat’s offer.

There’s one more twist in this story. While volunteering at the Habitat Central Delaware affiliate, Speakman discovered that the affiliate partners with NCALL Research Inc., a nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing development, education and lending, to provide financial education for homeowners. Karen Speakman, Callie’s mother, is deputy director at NCALL. Callie told the executive director about her mother, and Karen Speakman is now one of Central Delaware’s board members.

With only a few months left in her service year, Speakman describes her AmeriCorps experience as worthwhile, challenging and rewarding.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet the families, and I’ve learned so much about myself. It’s shown me I’m capable of handling many different tasks.”

She also hopes the AmeriCorps program will continue.

“AmeriCorps members are helping organizations that help people in need. With the economy forcing nonprofits to cut back and so many people struggling, the AmeriCorps program is more important than ever.”

Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer for Program Communications, based in Americus.