Representing Habitat and Veterans Build on a national stage

By Catherine Stodola, Veterans Build VISTA

Last week, I found myself sitting on stage with President Barack Obama as he signed the Veterans Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act.

My AmeriCorps VISTA journey began almost a year ago when I accepted a position with Habitat for Humanity International’s Veterans Build initiative. At that time, I had no idea what my year of service had in store; all I knew was my love for Habitat and my brother Alex, an officer in the United States Army.

During my year of service, I’ve learned how Veterans Build serves America’s military population. Following in the footsteps of two other AmeriCorps VISTA members, I’m proud to see the progress we’ve made in only three short years.

With the mission of empowering and engaging active service members, veterans, their families and families of the fallen through homeownership, volunteer and employment opportunities, Veterans Build takes a holistic approach to working with the military and veterans community.

I also quickly learned that “holistic” means phone calls, meetings, travel, strategic planning, and program and partnership development. On days when I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by these myriad responsibilities, I’ve left the office for a walk in search of inspiration.

Every time I searched, I eventually arrived at the same source of motivation: Habitat’s mission and my brother’s service. Memories of my Grayson County Habitat family with whom I’d volunteered back home in Texas filled my mind, as memories of welcoming my brother home from Afghanistan filled my heart. Ready and re-energized to get things done, I returned to the office to continue my work.

Sitting on stage behind President Obama with well-respected military and veteran community leaders, I was struck by the true impact of hard work and national service. Joined by a former homeless veteran who is now a Habitat homeowner and by Habitat’s director of federal relations, I attended as a representative of Habitat, an organization that has advocated for adequate and affordable housing for everyone, including service members, veterans, their families and families of the fallen. Although being present at such a historic event was a milestone, I recognize there is much more work ahead.

As I begin my second year of service as a VISTA leader, I am honored to continue to represent Habitat and Veterans Build and look forward to future milestone events with our colleagues in the military and veteran community.