Habitat AmeriCorps alum: Why I serve

The AmeriCorps slogan “Getting things done” caught my attention as a college senior struggling to figure out what to do next.

In college, I became involved in my university’s alternative spring break program. I loved the combination of traveling to a new place, learning about an issue facing a community and working to do something about it. I wanted to find a way to do this type of work full-time.

On my first spring break trip to help teach financial literacy to youth in New Orleans, I stayed at a church that was housing an AmeriCorps National Civilian Conservation Corps team. They gave us a presentation on the work they were doing. I later found out this was a “capping” event that each NCCC team puts on to let host communities know about the program. Four years later, I was putting on my own capping event as a Corps member serving in St. Bernard Parish via New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

St. Bernard — and each community I served during spring break trips and through AmeriCorps NCCC — welcomed me with open arms, pot luck dinners, invitations to seders and gifts of homemade pickled peppers. I felt as though I was part of these communities and soon realized that the issues facing them were very similar to the issues facing my community back home.

The unmet needs and inequities we encountered and attempted to address became personal to me, and my Habitat and AmeriCorps experiences across the country have provided me with the tools for positive change. I’ve learned new skills and met amazing people, but I think the most lasting effect of my AmeriCorps experience is a lifelong service bug.

In El Salvador, we learned about housing challenges in the region from local Habitat staff and representatives of various groups like UN-Habitat and TECHO, a local community-organizing nonprofit. We witnessed firsthand the lack of safe and affordable housing available. We started construction of a new house with a wonderful family who worked alongside us and hosted us each day for lunch.When I moved to Boston after AmeriCorps, I came across a National Day of Service opportunity with the local Habitat organized by the widow of a 9/11 victim to commemorate her husband. Working alongside her and other volunteers motivated me to stay involved in my community through service. When I heard about a recent Habitat AmeriCorps Alumni Association trip to El Salvador, I jumped at the opportunity. I could not think of a better way to commemorate my five-year post-AmeriCorps anniversary than a Global Village trip with other alumni who shared the same drive.

Reflecting on our service at the end of a long and exciting week came naturally to our AmeriCorps Alumni team. We talked about what we’d learned and what we would do next. Thanks to our phenomenal trip leaders and supportive local staff, opportunities for learning on the trip were immense, from new digging techniques to housing policies and building restrictions. Perhaps most importantly, I was reminded that of what I had learned during my AmeriCorps service — that my community stretches both far and wide and now forever includes San Salvador.

As for what we would do next, a consensus was clear: another Global Village trip!

— Kate Russell 

All AmeriCorps alumni who served with Habitat are encouraged to join the Habitat AmeriCorps Alumni Association. Global Village trips, build opportunities in the U.S., leadership and professional development, and advocacy opportunities are available for HAAA members.

Sign up to join fellow alums in communities around the world, and follow us on Facebook to learn more.

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Habitat AmeriCorps Alumni members attend mass in San Salvador before starting their weeklong build.